It's 34 degrees in the middle of the afternoon and although the sun is shining, the wind is cold. Amber Ellis had been standing outside of Giant Eagle on Mahoning Avenue in Warren, ringing a bell for the Salvation Army since 10 a.m. and she would be there until 8 p.m. making an hourly minimum wage. Ellis is a mother of two boys who would work a 10-hour shift every day for a week.
"I guess everybody can use a little extra money," Ellis said. "God gave me the roof and this brick here to help me out from the wind. It could be worse. I think I'll be all right. The Salvation Army really helps out a lot of people, and it may be cold out here for us, but it provides help for somebody in need."
In many ways, Ellis is lucky to have found work, especially in Trumbull County, which had an unemployment rate of 9 percent as of October. In a region where jobs are scarce, and as the holidays bring added financial pressures, any job is a good job. In 2011, Ohio's minimum wage is $7.40 per hour.
"I've worked with the public for over 40 years," says Lee McGrogan, a bell-ringer for five years. "I was a curator with the Western Reserve Historical Society for 20 years. I moved back to Warren to take care of my elderly mother, and jobs are so hard to find, I picked this up part time my first year here, and I just keep coming back. For seasonal work, it's very nice."
McGrogan rings a bell five hours a day, five days a week to help make ends meet.
The local Salvation Army stations bell-ringers at 21 locations throughout Trumbull county, most of which are staffed by paid employees.
"We prefer getting volunteers, but if we can't fill that position, then we fill them with somebody who gets paid minimum wage. Our preference is always to have volunteers there first," said Charles Coffelt, one of the Captains at the Warren Salvation Army.
But for many of the bell-ringers, volunteering isn't an option.
"I have kids," said bell-ringer Donald Knowles, "and my youngest is special needs. I got laid off from my job two and half years ago, so I needed some income so I could keep things going. No one else would give me a job."
He stood recently by one of the entrances at Hobby Lobby in Niles, wearing three coats, a pair of thick gloves, and a winter hat over his baseball cap.
"Once I was outside of Sam's Club and all I had was this jacket and some cheap gloves. And a lady goes, 'Ain't you cold?' and I said, 'Yeah, but I'm doing it for a cause.' She went in and told her husband to buy me a warm jacket and a pair of gloves," Knowles reflected. "Last week, there was a lady who brought me a double cheeseburger and fries. Somebody like that who did something for me, I'm grateful."
Bell-ringer Brian Ginkinger stands just down the street from Knowles, in front of the Save-A-Lot.
He's a volunteer who gets $23 in meal reimbursement from the Salvation Army each day he works.
"I get cold but I'm used to it," he said. "Even though I don't have gloves on today. There's only one place where you can stand inside," he said, referring to a location where bell-ringers are permitted to stand indoors. "But there's very little money because when people see you outside, they give more. They feel sorry or feel bad that you're cold. People come around and give you free things like food, including hot chocolate, coffee - they actually do that!"
Ginkinger attends Bible study at the Salvation Army and is a member of the Men's League and the drop-in center.
"I like helping out the Salvation Army," he said. "I do what I can to help them out."
Many bell-ringers, including Ginkinger, stand outside in punishing weather for 10 hours a day for the majority of the six weeks preceding the Christmas holiday.
"Just yesterday, there was someone who brought one of our bell ringers Starbucks it just made her whole day," said Coffelt.