For four years running, shoppers at on State Street have been treated to an extra helping of holiday cheer. Salvation Army bell ringer Arvie Vaulx Jr. keeps music in the air by caroling his way through every shift, every day.
No matter how cold or windy the weather, Vaulx warms his pipes non-stop for eight hours while minding his donation kettle and accompanying himself on twin, tinkling handbells.
While not everyone stops to listen, Vaulx has built up a fan base and friendships over four Christmas seasons – and he believes his singing does help with donations.
"Sometimes people get all the way to the parking lot, out to their cars, and then they come back," he said. "They say, 'The singing brought me back.'
"One fellow I've gotten to know, he's been having some trouble lately, and he was by here the other day when it was really cold. He stopped and stood here in the cold and sang carols with me for 45 minutes."
Vaulx always carries two bells so that any time kids come and go, he can offer them a chance to ring with him – and most do, gladly. Sometimes parents catch the spirit and give a jingle, too.
"You know, I see a thousand people here a day," he said, "and whether they give or not, I hope maybe I can just brighten things up for them a little bit.
"Out of all the ringing I've done, and all the people I've met, there's one person that stands out.
"I was out here one day, and this young lady, 15 years old, she came up with a big Mason jar full of quarters. She grabbed a handful and started pouring them into my kettle, and then another and another.
"And with every handful, I got another tear in my eye. Her father said, 'I have nothing to do with this. She saves them up all year long for this, every year.'
"Well, there must have been $75 in there. And that isn't the biggest donation I've ever gotten, but it's the best.
"I had a real pretty little red bell from the Salvation Army, so I gave her that bell. I said, 'You may do greater things than this someday, but I want you to know how much this means to me."
Asked what he's hoping for for Christmas, Vaulx says he just wants happiness all around him. But if there was one thing he could have for himself, it would be a job. When he sings his last note and packs up his kettle and bells on Christmas Eve, he'll be unemployed.
"If I could, I'd love to work right here at the Pick n' Save," he said, "where I've gotten to know so many good people."