Baker kicks off Salvation Army’s celebrity bell ringer competition

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BOSTON – Downtown Crossing got an unusual dollop of holiday joy Monday as passersby stopped to greet Gov. Charlie Baker, snap a selfie and grab a hug as he rang a Salvation Army bell to garner donations that piled up in the traditional red kettle by his side.

Baker began a competition that continues Tuesday with Speaker Robert DeLeo of the Massachusetts House of Representatives at the kettle and again Wednesday when Boston Mayor Marty Walsh will take his stand at the kettle. All are vying to see who can raise the most during their time with the bell in hand.

“I know the mayor of Boston, last year, Marty Walsh, I think was the big winner in total number of dollars raised,” Baker said as he shook the bell. “I’m going to do what I can to see if I can outperform him this year.”

Their three-day series is part of a celebrity event that will also bring out news anchors, reporters and meteorologists from the local Fox television network affiliate, as well as New England Revolution mascot Slyde the Fox. All will take their turn by the kettle in downtown Boston’s retail district. For the contestants, frosty conditions could make the difference.

“Sometimes if it feels colder, people have more empathy for the ringers,” said Danielle Degnan, a Salvation Army spokeswoman. But people donate for various reasons, she said. “I think some people just appreciate that somebody is standing outside.”

Baker took up the bell in front of the Macy’s store for about 45 minutes starting at 11:30 a.m. DeLeo will begin his ringing at 11 a.m. Tuesday and Mayor Walsh is due to start at 12 noon Wednesday.

“It is hard to say” what the overall effect will be on the amount of giving, or who will raise the most, Degnan said about the event. She added, “They are all pretty important to us.”

Before Baker kicked off the series, the Salvation Army’s annual red kettle fund drive had collected $1.87 million, or just over half its $3.4 million goal statewide. The funds will help pay for the organization’s programs, including holiday assistance, meals and lodging for those in need.