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Written by MITCH MAERSCH   
Wednesday, 13 December 2017 16:08

Lois Lanser of Port organizes the volunteers who invite generous folks to fill Salvation Army kettles

When the Salvation Army was looking for a red kettle coordinator five years ago, Lois Lanser knew nothing about the job.
But the Port Washington resident and member of the Salvation Army of Ozaukee County’s board of directors knew plenty about giving back, and willingly stepped up to the plate.
“At the time they were looking for someone, I thought, how hard can that be, I’ve got extra time,” she said.
Lanser wisely used all the additional minutes she could muster as she familiarized herself with the Christmastime campaign and developed her own organizational system.
She proved to be a quick study.
“It’s like a spider web. You figure it out,” Lanser said.
Now, thanks to diligent work by Lanser and her husband Randy, three bell-ringing sites in northern Ozaukee County run smoothly each year.
“It’s a well-oiled machine,” Lanser said.
But Lanser wants people to know that the Salvation Army’s reach goes well beyond raising money through its iconic red kettles.
“Most people think it’s only Christmas toys but it’s so much more,” Lanser said.
At least 100 people get help with payments for apartments or car repairs, and this year three patients requiring kidney or liver transplants had their medical bills paid for one month. The organization also helps pay many energy bills.
Those kinds of efforts match Lanser’s interests in charity work.
“I like giving back to people. I love what the Salvation Army does for so many people in need. They do help,” she said.
For the red kettle campaign, the Lansers  make trips to Sentry in Port, Walmart in Saukville and McDonald’s in Fredonia to swap out kettles full of donations from the day before Thanksgiving through Christmas Eve.
“We’re out every day. Every single day,” she said.
Last Sunday, the couple started at 9 a.m. and switched kettles at 1, 4 and 7 p.m.
“We could go out six or seven times a day,” she said.
In addition, both work two-hour shifts at the sites several days per week.
“Some days I’m booked real tight. Other days, not so tight. Whenever I get the volunteers, that’s fine,” she said. “We take turns and go out there in between.”
Lanser has an Excel spreadsheet — “that’s my bible” — to keep track of her volunteer schedule.
Lanser stores nearly 20 kettles and rotates them to each site.
“I have a big mess in my garage,” she said.
Finding volunteers has its challenges, but Lanser is blessed with her regulars each year.
On Sept. 1, she gets a jump on the schedule by sending reminder letters to groups such as schools, service organizations and fire departments. Each covers at least one or two days in the schedule.
“It’s great knowing you have those 15 large groups,” Lanser said. “They’re all very good about responding back.”
She even learned some new names along the way.
“I never knew what the Leathernecks were. I thought motorcycle group; it’s a military group,” Lanser said.
One entity remains a special group to the Lansers. At the opening of Coal Dock Park in 2013, Randy suffered a heart attack. Firefighters at the event instantly sprung into action and are credited with saving his life.
“If it wasn’t for the firemen in Port Washington, he wouldn’t be here today. That’s why it’s really important to give back,” Lois said.
She is already getting help from the next generation. About 75 National Honor Society members from Port Washington and Ozaukee high schools, along with students and teachers from Port Catholic — each work two-hour shifts.
“That helps tremendously. They fill in the cracks,” Lanser said. “Kids are a lot more giving of themselves than they get credit for.”
Lanser keeps track of the money the groups raise so she can tell them in her annual thank-you letters.
She said she is grateful that Port Washington State Bank counts the money for free.
“There’s not a straight dollar bill in any of (the kettles) I’m told,” she said.
Sentry allows bell ringers to stand inside its first entryway, but the other two sites have ringers outside in the winter wonderland.
“It’s only a two-hour shift. You dress for Wisconsin. Two hours goes real fast,” Lanser said.
Bell ringing doesn’t require much, she said.
“Everything is set up for them. They ring the bell, be pleasant, hand out candy and wish a merry Christmas,” Lanser said.
Sometimes, carolers and other attractions help bring in donations. Last week, Tinker the pony and Tullulah the dog made an appearance.
She said red kettles sit on countertops of area gas stations and restaurants as well but she won’t put unmanned kettles outside.
While Lanser handles the northern portion of the county, other coordinators handle two sites in Grafton and two in Cedarburg, she said.
Lanser down plays her own job but highlights its benefits.
“It isn’t a hard job. It’s a very rewarding job,” she said. “I just love it. You’re giving back, and it comes back to you twofold.”
When Lanser first signed up as red kettle coordinator, it was technically just that: a job.
“I was offered a stipend but I gave it up. I do it for free,” Lanser said.
Volunteer work has become a lifestyle for Lanser. In addition to the red kettle campaign, Lanser has been helping at St. Ben’s and the House of Peace in Milwaukee for nine years. Nearly 400 people are served meals six nights per week.
“Anyone is invited to have a free meal, but usually it’s the homeless or extremely poor,” Lanser said.
She collects donations for the meals at her home and is member of an Ozaukee County group that brings a meal on the third Thursday of each month.
On Thanksgiving, Lanser brought another element to help, her three sons and their families, including six grandchildren.
Some helped serve, others handed out candy and another gave out tickets for a free pair of socks.
“That humbles them,” Lanser said.
Even when Lanser held a paid gig it served those in need. She retired a year ago from Ozaukee County’s Meals on Wheels program, working part time so she could take care of her mother. Once her mother passed away, Lanser kept the part-time status to help babysit her grandchildren.
While the plight ofthe poor is more obvious in Milwaukee, there is still plenty of need back home, she said.
“We have a huge need here. These people aren’t on the street corners like they are in other places. It’s a little more hidden in Ozaukee.”
For those interested in being a bell ringer, Lanser said she has openings. This year’s red kettle campaigns run through Dec. 24 at Walmart and Dec. 31 at Sentry and McDonald’s.
Lanser is also looking for someone to take over as red kettle coordinator. This is her final year as she is looking to donate her time in other ways.
Anyone interested in bell ringing or the coordinator position may contact Lanser at 414-750-0972.

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