Russ Swart? Oh, yeah, he rings a bell
BY CHRIS SMITH/The Press Democrat
You’ll likely remember the name Russ Swart. He’s the fellow who appeared on Page 1 of the PD last Christmas Day as the local Salvation Army’s most supreme holiday bell ringer ever.
Well, he’s back.
“My goal is 25,000 smiles,” the sociable, 64-year-old Swart said Wednesday morning. He was about to start another nine-hour shift manning a red donation kettle outside a supermarket, and engaging passers-by.
Last year, he couldn’t find paid work so he made himself useful by ringing a bell alongside a kettle at the Safeway on Santa Rosa’s Yulupa Avenue for nearly 300 hours. Local Salvation Army officers astounded by his dedication were blown away when they added up what folks had dropped into his red bucket: $10,720.
This holiday season, he’s working the same Safeway store from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and switching to the G&G Supermarket on West College Avenue on Wednesdays.
Though his mission is raise money for the human services provided by the Salvation Army, watch him for even a few minutes and it’s clear that what he loves most is meeting and getting to know people.
He asks shoppers how Thanksgiving was, how their day is going. He especially likes to talk to children and invite them to ring the bell or help drop coins and bills into the pail.
“It’s amazing, the conversations I have,” he said. He feels honored when someone feels compelled to tell him about the gratitude they feel for the Salvation Army for the help it gave them at a time of personal crisis.
Swart encourages folks to come to the Safeway or G&G while he’s there, ring the bell for even a few minutes and get a sense of why he loves to work the kettle.
It’s all about the people. People who are in need, people who are pleased to give what they can to help and people pleased by the opportunity to pause for a neighborly chat outside the supermarket.
“It all fits together, and it’s wonderful for me to be a small part of it,” the bell ringer said.