MILFORD >> With only about two weeks to go until Christmas, the Salvation Army recently asked local media to put out a call for volunteer bell ringers to staff the red donation kettles.

So, rather than interview others about their experiences, I decided to try it myself.

With the huge help of my son, Will Ruddell, 19, who donned his Santa Claus suit for the occasion, we covered a four-hour shift outside Hobby Lobby on the Boston Post Road.

We gave our time so that others might give their change and dollar bills to collectively add up to much more than we ever could have donated cash.

Will and I did our gig on a slow weeknight during Christmas shopping season, but the majority of the people passing through the doors gave something — a few quarters, their spare change, dollar bills. Penny-by-penny, nickel-by-nickel, it all adds up.

The nicest part about volunteering for this age-old cause that helps the needy is that most people smiled at Will and me or said, “Merry Christmas” whether they put money in the kettle or not.

One man struck up a conversation about the dusk clouds looking like steps to heaven and that led to a conversation about spirituality and religion.

After our shift, Will and I came to two conclusions: that our time was well spent for a great cause and that we should have worn gloves.

The Salvation Army is an evangelical part of the universal Christian church and has supported the needy since 1865 “without discrimination,” according to its literature.

A woman said enthusiastically both on the way in and on the way out that she’d be back on payday, and left Will and me with a big “God bless you.”

It was clear that Will in his Santa costume and strong voice made people want to give more than when I was ringing the bell.

Many shoppers said they had just put money in a kettle at a nearby store.

Too many people avoided eye contact with us because their faces were in their phones from the parking lot through the door of the store.

Cellphones wouldn’t have been a problem back when the red kettle tradition began in December 1891, when a Salvation Army captain in San Francisco raised money to provide a free Christmas dinner to the area’s poor by collecting donations in a large pot.

By Christmas of 1895, the kettle was used in 30 Salvation Army Corps in various sections of the West Coast, according to a Salvation Army press release. The iconic red kettles are now used in 128 countries throughout the world.

The Salvation Army of Southern New England, which encompasses Connecticut and Rhode Island, has set a red kettle fundraising goal of $2 million, a spokesman said.

Kettle income supports numerous programs and services, including food pantries, shelters, emergency assistance, summer camp programs, school readiness and after-school programs, as well as holiday assistance.

Funds raised locally stay local, helping those who donate to provide for neighbors in need, according to Salvation Army officials.

At the Salvation Army, 82 cents of every dollar that is donated goes back to programs that serve the hungry, homeless, frail and lonely.

The money raised through the kettles helps sustain vital programs and services all year, not just at holiday time. Nationally, more than 30 million Americans are served by the organization each year.

On Saturday, state Rep. Pam Staneski, R-119, participated in the campaign at Walmart.

For more information, visit http://www.salvationarmyct.org.