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Salvation Army volunteers set bell-ringing record

SAN FRANCISCO >>  After ringing his hand bell to solicit donations for 51 hours without food or sleep, Salvation Army volunteer Marcelino Soriano had reached his limit Saturday.

“My legs are hurting, and I’m feeling a little light-headed,” the 44-year-old said, as he rang his bell for the last few times outside a Macy’s store in San Francisco’s Union Square.

Soriano was among more than a dozen Salvation Army volunteers around the nation who broke the charitable organization’s 36-hour record for continuous hand bell ringing.

The contest began Thursday with 24 bell-ringing volunteers. The goal was to raise awareness about The Salvation Army’s iconic red kettle donation drive and encourage giving over the holidays, officials with the organization said.

Fifteen volunteers — taking only 10-minute breaks every four hours to go to the bathroom — rang bells past 12 a.m. EST, beating the previous 36-hour record set in 2010 by a Salvation Army captain in Spokane, Wash.

Soriano continued into the late morning hours, but five others — including two from Indianapolis, Ind. — were still going Saturday afternoon. Under the contest rules, volunteers had to stand the whole time while ringing their bell and could not sleep or take food. Liquids were allowed.

“The toughest thing is trying to stay awake and handling the cold weather,” Soriano said. “In the end, it’s trying to have a clear mind.”

Soriano received company from other Salvation Army volunteers — one of whom played “Jingle Bells” on the tuba as he counted the minutes until the 51 hours were complete. A board on an easel in back of Soriano, who has been ringing bells for The Salvation Army since 1994, noted his attempt to set a record and the number of hours he had completed.

Passersby stopped to take photographs or remark on how they had read about him in the newspaper, as they stuffed his red kettle with dollar bills.

The words were encouraging and helped him keep his energy up, Soriano said.

After reaching the 51-hour mark, one woman asked whether he was done.

“I better be done,” Soriano told her. “Before an ambulance has to get me because I fell on the ground.'”

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