The Joy of Reaching Out and Giving Back

Details may be altered, but the holiday spirit remains intact.

There certainly is no doubt about it. This holiday season is like no other for individuals, for families, and for businesses and organizations. No office parties, no big family gatherings, no huge cookie and gift exchanges, no school and church children’s programs. Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s a major bummer all around for everyone.

But one thing is steadfast. The spirit of giving hasn’t diminished. If anything, it’s stronger with so many people facing hardships.

Two local organizations with annual holiday service initiatives are forging ahead, resolute in carrying on traditions that benefit others.

Iowa Association of REALTORS®

“We look forward to the first Friday of December,” says Mark Gavin, director of communications and marketing for the Iowa Association of REALTORS. “That’s when we traditionally participate in Iowa REALTOR Ring Day with the Salvation Army. A number of Realtors around the state team up with colleagues around the nation to stand at the iconic red kettles and collect donations.” He knows in the past that at least 20-plus states have been on board with the project.

Ring Day began with a member in Fargo, North Dakota, some years ago who wanted to give real estate professionals a way to support a cause near to them—housing. He felt the two groups could pair up easily because the Salvation Army offers a number of housing-related programs. Gavin says this is the ninth year for the central Iowa participation in the event.

He says there have been some slight changes because of the pandemic. Masks, gloves, and social distancing, of course, will be in place. “It’s hard to tell how many people participate; various boards handle the situation differently,” he explains. “Some work in one- or two-hour time slots. In some locations, Realtors might take a six-hour shift in front of a supermarket or a hardware store and provide various bell ringers for the whole time.” He says that some people go all out and wear Santa Claus or elf costumes to add to the spirit of the event.

Ken Clark, past president of the association, says, “My wife Diane and I participate in Ring Day and support the great work of the Salvation Army. The Army is unmatched in the percent of revenue that goes for its work. Because of the many volunteers, a very small percentage is used for administration.”

Gavin encourages individuals, or even other organizations, to help out the Salvation Army, too. “It’s so easy. Just sign up at,” he says.

HBA Remodelers Council

For the Remodelers Council of the Home Builders Association of Greater Des Moines (HBA), December means collecting items for the Marine Corps Toys for Tots program. “We usually collect toys at our annual holiday party,” says Jeff Ellis, chairman of the council this year. “However, this year, like so many other groups, we aren’t celebrating with a party. So we are having our members drop off toys at the HBA office in Johnston.

Ellis, owner of FIRSTCALL, Inc., in Grimes, says various members usually offer repair services at the holidays to homeowners who need them, but not this year because of the pandemic. “Each year my wife and I go shopping for some basic, classic toys to donate, usually a truck and a doll. Every child loves those standard toys.”

Toys for Tots began in 1947, right after World War II, by Major Bill Hendricks in Los Angeles. The first year 5,000 toys were collected and distributed. The first donation was a doll handmade by his wife Diane. By 1980 only new toys were collected. The number of toys collected went to 7.9 million by 1990. A toy program for Native American children was established in 1980.

First Lady Michelle Obama volunteered for eight years. First Lady Melania Trump has participated in recent years. The Blue Angels have flown and distributed toys over the years, and corporate sponsors have been groups such as Build-a-Bear, Hasbro, and United Parcel Service.

Toys for Tots is proud that 97% of its proceeds go to purchasing toys, books, and other gifts for less-fortunate children. The remaining 3% goes to fundraising expenses, not salaries.

Ellis encourages the public to participate in the program. “If people drop off toys to the HBA office, 6751 Corporate Drive in Johnston, by December 14, we will get them to the Marine Corps.”

Bottom line for these two and other generous groups: The feel-good aspect goes two ways. While the goal is to make others have a nice holiday and feel great, those who perform the services feel good, too. It’s a win-win for both sides.