Category: Houston Chronicle

The guy in the red apron: How a Salvation Army bell ringer brings heart to the job

The guy in the red apron: How a Salvation Army bell ringer brings heart to the job

By Bobby Ross Jr. | For Religion News Service

NORTH RICHLAND HILLS, Texas — To hear Bruce Bachman tell it, he’s just a guy with a bell, a red apron and a heart to serve who gives a little of his time during the holiday season.

He’s just one of the thousands of volunteer bell ringers who keep alive a 127-year tradition that the Salvation Army traces to Capt. Joseph McFee, who set out a large, iron kettle in 1891 to collect funds for a Christmas dinner in San Francisco.

From Thanksgiving to Christmas, the change, bills and occasional large checks and gold coins that Americans drop into about 25,000 kettles from coast to coast amount to roughly $150 million, said Lt. Col. Ron Busroe, the Salvation Army’s national community relations and development secretary.

Some bell ringers wish passers-by a heartfelt “Merry Christmas” and hope the kettle fills. But many others, like Bachman, have honed strategies and routines to make the most of the uncompensated work — for the Salvation Army and for all who come within earshot.

Just before 10 a.m. on a busy shopping day, the 61-year-old consulting engineer arrives at a Hobby Lobby arts and crafts store with a mailbox-sized stereo, a box of Christmas CDs and a plastic baggie full of hard candy.

“I bring the candy to suck on so I don’t have to drink as much water,” Bachman explains. He knows he won’t have time for meals or bathroom breaks, so he tries to be prepared (eating a hearty breakfast of eggs, bacon and hash browns ahead of time).

He’ll stand outside for eight hours and — as a mix of Bing Crosby, Mannheim Steamroller and “A Charlie Brown Christmas” tunes plays — invite customers to donate to the Salvation Army’s red kettle campaign.

“God bless you!” he tells a woman who pulls money out of her purse. “You have a very merry Christmas!”

“Hello, cutie!” he says in his best Donald Duck voice as 3-year-old Jubilee Longoria approaches the kettle with a handful of coins.

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Religion News Service is a national wire service with more than 100 secular and religious media subscribers, including USA Today, the Washington Post and NPR.

 

Catholic faith moves ‘Mattress Mack’ to shelter Harvey victims

Catholic faith moves ‘Mattress Mack’ to shelter Harvey victims

By Bobby Ross Jr. | For Religion News Service

HOUSTON — Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale was kicking himself the morning after Hurricane Harvey made landfall, for closing his furniture stores while some people could still shop.

Known to millions in America’s fourth-largest city because he stars in his own zany television commercials, McIngvale had closed all three of his Gallery Furniture locations on Aug. 26.

“A lot of these small retailers up and down the street were open, and they were doing a lot of business,” said the fast-talking entrepreneur, whose antics have included promising to refund customers’ money if the Astros win this year’s World Series.

Little did McIngvale know that Houston quickly would become a disaster zone — and that he, driven by his faith, would emerge as one of the battered city’s most beloved heroes.

On the Sunday after the storm hit land, the 66-year-old entrepreneur rose early to attend Mass at Houston’s Assumption Catholic Church.

But he couldn’t get out of his driveway. The storm that would dump a record-breaking 50-plus inches of rain on the Bayou City had him blocked in. He was stuck at his house for three hours before he could leave.

The flooded cars on the freeway made him realize the extent of the disaster, as did the “hundreds of calls and emails and texts of people wanting us to rescue them” that greeted him at his original Gallery Furniture location.

When he settled into the store, McIngvale — who can display both his cantankerous and compassionate natures nearly simultaneously — pivoted from selling furniture to rescuing and housing fellow Texans trapped by floodwaters.

His faith, he said, moved him to help.

Read the full story.

Religion News Service is a national wire service with more than 100 secular and religious media subscribers, including USA Today, the Washington Post and NPR.

As major cities crack down on panhandling, many wrestle with their consciences

As major cities crack down on panhandling, many wrestle with their consciences

In a number of cities, the ordinances are sparking legal battles with civil liberties advocates, who accuse communities of treating the homeless as ‘human blight.’

By Bobby Ross Jr. | For Religion News Service

OKLAHOMA CITY (RNS) Driving to his downtown clothing business, Hans Herman Thun finds it impossible to ignore the beggars.

They catch his attention with handwritten, cardboard signs such as “Homeless and hungry,” “Anything helps! God bless” and even “I’ll be honest — I could really use a beer.”

Thun, a self-described born-again Christian, works as a tailor for prominent customers such as University of Oklahoma football coach Bob Stoops.

The owner of Hans Herman Custom Tailors said he does his best to help those in need.

“If I’ve got money, and it’s easy for me to get over and give them money, I do,” Thun said. “What the Lord taught me is, I have a responsibility to give. What they choose to do with the money is between them and the Lord, and he can work with them in regards to stewardship.”

But in Oklahoma City and major cities across the nation, elected officials increasingly are passing ordinances that crack down on panhandling.

Typically, these ordinances make it a crime to approach vehicles or stand on medians at busy intersections. Supporters tout the ordinances as safety measures designed to protect the public as well as those seeking food or money.

In a number of cities, however, the ordinances are sparking legal battles with civil liberties advocates, who accuse communities of violating free speech rights and treating the homeless as “human blight.” In one week in May, opponents filed lawsuits challenging anti-panhandling laws in Houston; Pensacola, Fla; and the Salt Lake City suburb of Sandy.

In this Bible Belt state capital, the American Civil Liberties Union and Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma are suing over a so-called “median safety ordinance.” The law, which took effect last year, “attempts to criminalize everything from panhandling to political speech and even neighbors talking to one another or walking their dogs in the grass,” said attorney Brady Henderson, the ACLU of Oklahoma’s legal director.

Read the full story.

Among major papers that picked up this story: USA Today, the Houston Chronicle and the Colorado Springs Gazette.

Religion News Service is a national wire service with more than 100 secular and religious media subscribers, including USA Today, the Washington Post and NPR.