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She uses a bell and a smile to encourage giving

December 24, 2004|BY GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - On a sunny, but chilly afternoon last week, Lauren McGuirk stood quietly - but not too quietly - on a sidewalk in front of the Save-A-Lot grocery store on Maryland Avenue in Hagerstown.

McGuirk, 39, who lives near Hagerstown, was ringing her hand-held bell, wearing a red apron emblazoned with The Salvation Army emblem and waiting for people to begin filling the red plastic kettle she was standing near.

McGuirk is one of dozens of paid workers and volunteers who join the ranks of local Salvation Army bell-ringers every year, raising thousands of dollars locally.

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Local Salvation Army officials said earlier this year they hope to bring in $80,000 this year, although last year's kettle drive brought in nearly $92,000. The money helps to pay for food, clothing and toys at Christmas. The rest goes for The Salvation Army's shelter for women and children and a weekday food service.

Maj. Butch Mallard, the commanding officer of The Salvation Army of Washington County, said every worker and volunteer's help is needed, and McGuirk's help is no different.

"She's very dependable, very pleasant and she's a joy to have working for us," Mallard said.

McGuirk said she's paid for her Salvation Army work, but it's not her full-time job. She's a proof-reader at McDougal Publishing Co. and attends Crossroads Church in Hagerstown.

McGuirk displayed her bell-ringing style, which she had been perfecting since mid-November, when she first began to work with The Salvation Army. She extended her arm, pinched the bell's handle with her thumb and forefinger and jiggled it lightly.

"I just ring like this. Kind of not real hard," McGuirk said. "I talk to people ... thank them and say 'Merry Christmas.'"

By about midway through her shift, the locked kettle weighed about five pounds - not too heavy - but by the end of the shift they can be pretty weighty she said. Most of the money is change. The biggest bill she'd seen go into one of her buckets was a $20 bill.

Shortly after a man emptied his change purse into the bucket, McGuirk said she thought the collections were going well, although it's not her job to count the cash. She only stands by the bucket, smiles and rings the bell, she said.

"I think it's been pretty good this year," McGuirk said. "It's rewarding to see people giving money, knowing they're helping the poor."

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