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Ringing the bell with gusto

 

December 16, 2013

John Kelleher

William Hobbins waves to the crowd at Walmart Saturday as he rings the bell seeking donations to Salvation Army.

William Hobbins stands in front of Walmart every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., singing, greeting people, telling jokes and wishing folks a merry Christmas.

And, by the way, he collects money for the Salvation Army, urging people to donate to his favorite cause by dropping coins in his red kettle.

His cheery demeanor, his music - he brings his smartphone and plays Christmas tunes - and his determination brings in more money for the Salvation Army than just about any other collector, said Trina Crawford, Havre Salvation Army executive director.

"Merry Christmas, brother," he says, greeting someone as they enter the store. "Button up that coat, it's cold out.

"Merry Christmas young lady," he yells to a gray-haired woman coming to the store for her Christmas shopping.

"Young lady? she exclaims. "You'd better take another look."

Both laugh.

He offers hugs to some people and waves to everyone as they approach.

Unlike many others who collect funds as part of the red kettle campaign, William, 26, knows the value of services provided by the Salvation Army.

"I probably wouldn't be alive today if it weren't for the Salvation Army," he said.

At 13, he was homeless in Charlottesville, Va., with no food to eat.

His conduct and his behavior before meeting up with the Salvation Army makes him cringe today.

Cold, homeless and hungry, he went to Salvation Army.

The Salvation Army gave him food, lodging and work to do.

More important, he said, Salvation Army gave him the spiritual direction he needed to change his life.

After he got his footing, he moved to Richmond, Va., where he volunteered with the Salvation Army, preparing and serving food to people who were in the same boat he was a few months back.

Ready to start a new life, he took a dart and threw it at the map of United States to determine where he should relocate.

The dart landed on Great Falls, Mont., a place he'd never heard of, but he soon was living in there and before long ended up in Havre.

"I think it's an honor to do this," he said, while ringing his bell.

"It's my way of giving back to the community.

Unlike other bell-ringing locations, ringers at the Salvation Army have to stand outside.

Weather has not been cooperative.

It was cold Saturday morning, despite forecasts that said it would warm up. That had some effect on the fund drive.

William's voice was getting a bit hoarse as he greeted the hundreds of shoppers who flocked to Walmart that day.

"Jack Frost is nipping at my voice," he said.

But there were no complaints.

"I'm outside in the cold," he said, "but I have a home to go to and food to eat."

"I'm here for the people who are out in the cold and have no place to go," he said.

"Jesus had to make some sacrifices," he said. "This is nothing compared to that."

So he goes to Walmart's parking lot every Saturday, the happiest person in the place, greeting people, and celebrating what Christ is all about - joy and helping people in need.

Stop by and see William next weekend and let him share his joy with you. Maybe you can share some money with him.

(John Kelleher is managing editor of the Havre Daily News. He can be reached at jkelleher@havredailynews.com, 406-265-6795, ext. 17, or 406-390-0798.)

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