A keeper of the kettle: Salvation Army volunteer top fundraiser in Abbotsford

Mavis Nielson has spent a decade as the Salvation Army's top red kettle fundraiser during the Christmas campaign.

  • Dec. 13, 2011 2:00 p.m.
Mavis Nielsen is perennially the top-earning volunteer with the Salvation Army’s red kettle campaign.

Mavis Nielsen is perennially the top-earning volunteer with the Salvation Army’s red kettle campaign.



by Tyler Orton, Contributor

Planted between the Starbucks and London Drugs at the entrance to West Oaks Mall in Abbotsford, Mavis Nielsen’s presence at the shopping centre is hard to miss during the holiday season.

For the past 11 years the Salvation Army volunteer has jingled her holiday bells, wished season’s greetings upon shoppers and drawn more donations for the Sally Ann red kettle campaign than any other person in Abbotsford.

Draped in a Santa coat and hat, it’s difficult for people not to notice, and feel compelled to drop some coins in the kettle.

Frequent calls of “Hi, Mavis” ring out from shoppers and store workers who are used to seeing her each Christmas season.

Nielsen says she doesn’t have any secret tricks to her success with the kettle.

“I put it down to I’m a people person,” Nielsen says.

The soft-spoken woman says she’s trying to repeat last year’s success when mall store employees gathered around her kettle to sing Christmas carols and draw even more donations.

“I thought it wouldn’t do well this year because the economy’s down,” Nielsen says. Instead, she’s been surprised that the kettle has ended up full almost every day since she returned to her seasonal stomping ground on Dec. 1.

Despite all this success, she says she fell into volunteering for the Salvation Army by accident.

Nielsen wandered into West Oaks Mall back in 2000 after dressing in her signature Santa suit for a holiday function. That’s when a Salvation Army employee approached her.

“He said, ‘Oh, you’re here for the kettle,’” Nielsen recalls.

She told him no, but the employee asked her to take over red kettle duties when the scheduled volunteer didn’t show up. Despite some initial reluctance, Nielsen agreed to do it and has been drawing the most donations in the city ever since.

Even if she wasn’t wearing her distinct holiday attire, Nielsen’s presence would be hard to miss. She spends each day collecting donations at the mall from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and doesn’t even take a break for lunch or dinner. Instead, she opts to bring packed meals and eat them while she’s ringing the bell.

Nielsen doesn’t agree with any suggestions that 14-hour days must make for an exhausting schedule.

“I would rather be working [long days] because I like to be on the move. I don’t like sitting around,” she says.

Her resolve to keep active has only increased since her doctor told her it’s just a matter of time before a resurgence of polio forces her into using a scooter to get around.

To her, volunteering for the red kettle campaign is the perfect way to maintain an active lifestyle and keep up her strength.

Whenever people ask Nielsen if she’ll be back for another holiday season, she has the same response each time: “I’m going to try to come for another 10 years.”