By Brandi Makuski
Dozens of local law enforcement, firefighters and their families spent Saturday ringing bells for the Salvation Army.
In a friendly competition which lasted from 10 AM to 4 PM, the Stevens Point and Plover police departments, Stevens Point Fire Dept. and the Portage Co. Sheriff’s Office all vied against each other to raise funds for the annual Red Kettle challenge. Groups worked in one-hour shifts in an attempt to best each other’s donation total by the end of the day.
“This is beautiful weather,” said Sgt. Tony Zblewski from SPPD. “I’ve stood out here some years with snow, wind and 20 below.”
Zblewski rang bells with Sgt. Paul Piotrowski at Trigs on Saturday morning, followed by Chief Marty Skibba, who volunteered time along with his wife Jeannine.
“Any time we can be out in the community and help the community at the same time, that’s a win-win for the entire community,” Skibba said.
Though he prefers to stay behind the scenes, Stevens Point Fire Chief Bob Finn donned a Santa hat, along with Assistant Chief Joe Gemza, along with Gemza’s 14-year-old daughter Abigail and various firefighters, in front of Fleet Farm on Hwy. 10.
“Should we sing?” Finn suggested.
“No, we’ll scare people away,” Assistant Chief Gemza replied.
Sheriff Mike Lukas, along with several deputies were on hand at Copps in Park Ridge early Saturday morning, reportedly setting up before the 10 AM start time agreed to by all the parties involved- something the other groups jokingly criticized the sheriff for.
“He cheated- he was out early,” Assistant Chief Gemza. “We’ll get him for it, too. We’ll get bigger bells and hit the other door, so we can try to get everyone [the shoppers].”
Skibba also joked that Lukas was out early in an attempt to woo voters.
“As an elected official, he’s got to keep up his public appearances,” Skibba said lightheartedly. “But I’ll find it in my heart to forgive him, in the spirit of the season.”
Chief Dan Ault from Plover PD was also out on Saturday at Walmart, along with several of the village’s police officers and firefighters.
Office Jeff Thomas was joined by his family and regaled shoppers with traditional Christmas carols.
Bob Quam, director of the local Salvation Army, said the totals from Saturday’s bell-ringing would not be available until at least Monday.
A similar challenge was held last week, when County Executive Patty Dreier, Stevens Point Mayor Mike Wiza and Plover Administrator Dan Mahoney used their local celebrity to raise funds during a friendly bell-ringing competition at area grocery stores.
For that competition, Wiza was joined by his family, and several Plover firefighters joined Mahoney, who, according to Quam, won the challenge “by quite a bit.”
Quam said event days like this one help boost giving towards the organization’t $135,000 fundraising goal. A “Packers versus Bears” event will be held next weekend, Quam said.