While it's no surprise to see Salvation Army bell ringers outside of stores this time of year, on Saturday, Dec. 13 Ceres citizens saw their mayor and council members braving the cold to bring a few extra dollars - $613.48 to be exact - to the kettles through a friendly county-wide competition.
This year marks the second annual Mayor's Kettle Challenge, a competition conceived of by Cecilia Michelini of the Modesto-based Salvation Army as a way to generate funds for the Salvation Army "to stuff the pots so to speak."
For the second consecutive year, Ceres won the competition out of five participating cities.
"It was really good," said Mayor Chris Vierra of the experience. "You get to see and talk to people. I was really surprised ... there were people putting money into the pot who looked like they didn't have much to give."
He estimated that three out of 10 shoppers stopped to drop in money.
It wasn't just change. I saw people putting in 20's in there and 5's. I was surprised at the turn out."
This year Ceres raised $613.48, Modesto raised $497.40 thanks in part to Mayor Garrad Marsh, Riverbank raised $486.71, Turlock raised $459.50, and Mayor Luis Molina in Patterson raised $164.71 in their respective kettles alone.
The mayor said the generosity of the Ceres community is one reason why it continues to be strong in donations for two years now.
"I put a nice donation in," added Vierra who chuckled. "It's for a good cause."
Vierra was assisted by councilmembers who took turns ringing the bell for six straight hours. Councilman Mike Kline rang the bell from 10 a.m. to noon and was replaced by Vice Mayor Bret Duorossette from noon to 1 p.m. Councilmember Linda Ryno staffed the effort between 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. followed by the mayor from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Mayors of Stanislaus County cities were on board to brave the cold to ring bells for two years with Ceres bringing in the most "bang for their bell" for both competitions.
While the friendly competition is motivating for the local leaders, most would agree helping to provide for those in need this holiday season is the real prize.
"My hands were freezing, but it's the least I can do," laughed Turlock City Council Member Matthew Jacob. "It's Christmas and that's what it's all about: giving. It felt great to not only give attention to this cause that does so much for our community, but to see so many kids giving a few dollars here and there too."
Nobody bent Vierra's ears on political matter but some did say it was great to see the mayor out there for a good cause.
The bell ringing season kicked off on Nov. 24 and concludes on Christmas Eve. The proceeds are given to programs run at the Salvation Army. While this year is showing a slight improvement over last year as far as overall kettle collections, there is one important element and that's the weather.
Elizabeth Arakelian contributed to this report.