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Generosity is music to bell ringer's ears

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Five days a week, Matt Snider bundles up and prepares for an 8- to 10-hour shift outside, ringing a bell.

He has stood outside in 15-degree weather and watched hundreds of people walk by without looking at him. He has smiled and said thank-you when someone handed him a cup of hot coffee.

For the past two years, Snider has worked as a bell ringer during November and December for The Salvation Army’s Red Kettle Campaign.

The Brown County resident has been laid off work from two jobs since August 2011. He’s been out of work this year since September and is behind on his bills.

But Snider is determined to buy at least a few of the presents on his 14-year-old daughter’s wish list, which includes electronics, movies and makeup. The days when he could buy her an off-brand toy for less than $20 are gone.

A few months ago, Snider was worried he wouldn’t be able to afford any presents.

He has asked The Salvation Army for help before. He received assistance buying Christmas presents one year when he couldn’t afford them. And a few times, he’s gotten food from a food pantry.

“I know how it is not to have a place to go. I know how it is not to know when you’ll get your next hot meal. I want everyone who has nothing to have something,” Snider said.

Snider is getting paid to be a bell ringer, but he said he’s glad the job allows him to give back to the organization that has helped him.

“I’d like to be a volunteer, but I can’t afford to do that,” Snider said.

The Salvation Army screens applicants for criminal backgrounds and hired seven paid bell ringers this year, said Jeanine McGaha, social service coordinator with the Johnson County office. More than 100 bell ringers are volunteers in Johnson County, she said.

The bell ringers stand outside 18 businesses, including Walmart and the Greenwood Park Mall, six days a week, ringing a bell and wishing people a merry Christmas.

Bell ringers have an unspoken policy that they never ask for donations, they just let people donate without prompting, Snider said.

In his two years as a bell ringer, people have brought Snider coffee, water and bottles of soda while he’s standing outside. One woman brought him a needlepoint square with Santa’s face on it. More than once, he has found small presents left near the Salvation Army kettle.

About a fourth of the people who walk by on any given day will donate, Snider said.

Usually, people donate $1 or their change, but Snider said a few people will put a $5 or $20 bill in the kettle. One time, someone wrapped three $100 bills and a $50 bill inside a $1 bill and dropped it in Snider’s bucket.

“I guess they didn’t want anyone to know they did it,” Snider said.

That day, Snider took in more than $800 in donations from his 10-hour shift. Usually, Snider said he collects between $350 and $500 a shift.

All of the donations the bell ringers receive go to Salvation Army programs, such as the food pantry and to help residents in need pay for their utilities, McGaha said.

Snider said he appreciates the gifts from people and the generosity people show when donating.

“Every bit of this goes to helping people that don’t have it,” he said.

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