Cruz makes Salvation Army bell ringing a priority

11/26/2012

By ANGIE HAFLICH

By ANGIE HAFLICH

ahaflich@gctelegram.com

Despite his busy schedule, Tim Cruz of Garden City has found time to be a Salvation Army bell ringer for the past 18 years.

It is his belief that any little bit helps, whether it be in the form of money or time.

"My parents were always very good volunteers. They volunteered for the Boy Scouts and stuff like that, so they always encouraged us to give back," said Cruz, a USD 457 Board of Education member and former mayor and Garden City commissioner. "I really don't know why I started ringing the bell, but I figured giving a couple of hours a week wouldn't be too hard. I was getting to meet people and thought it was a good cause, so I started and then never quit."

His parents, Raymond and Alice Cruz' example instilled a spirit of giving in him and his brother, Anthony Cruz, who also has spent time as a bell ringer.

"There's a couple of times, my younger brother and I would compete to see who could get the most money in the kettle. I think the first time, he beat me by maybe a dollar," Cruz said.

The two brothers also donate their time to a group called Real Men, Real Leaders, a group of Hispanic leaders from Garden City who mentor fifth- and sixth-grade boys from Bernadine Sitts Intermediate Center. This year, they are getting the boys in on bell ringing.

"We have an after-school program on Tuesday afternoons, and we try to teach them leadership skills and volunteerism, so we thought this would be a good time to get them out there," Cruz said. "Our group is fairly new, but hopefully, one or more of those kids will someday be saying, 'This is my 18th year.'"

Cruz also volunteers for the Finney County United Way, his church, the Kansas Health Initiative Board out of Topeka and the Kiwanis Club.

He is married to Penny Cruz, a librarian at Alta Brown Elementary school. They have a 25-year-old son, Zachary Cruz, and 22-year-old daughter, Joscelyn Cruz.

Cruz is employed as a safety specialist for the Kansas Department of Transportation, so the number of hours he puts into bell ringing largely depends on his schedule.

"I'm going to say anywhere from two to four hours a week. It just depends on the week. Some weeks, I can't do it, and then the next week I'll maybe do two or three hours," he said.

Cruz may stand out from other bell ringers in town as he likes to give back to those who drop change in the kettle.

"I buy candy canes and always give them to the people as they're leaving because it's not just about, 'I want your money.' It's, 'I appreciate you giving. Here's a candy cane. Blessings on your day because you really are helping our community,'" he said. "I think that's the nice thing about Garden City. Our community really does give. The Salvation Army, United Way — I mean any agency, when they need some money, the community is willing to help."

When Cruz started as a bell ringer, his main post was at Dillons East. But Robert DeLeon, community center director and youth program director for the Salvation Army, started having his volunteers rotate at all of the locations — Walgreens, Walmart, Sam's Club, Dillons East, Dillons West, JCPenney and Sears.

"Wherever they tell me to go, that's where I'll go," Cruz said, adding that the money raised goes a long way in helping others.

"Sometimes I think people are skeptical: 'Where's all this money going to? You don't need my change.' But any little bit helps. If you give a nickel or if you give $50, every little penny counts, and I think there's a need for it in Garden City. Around the world, I think we're in some pretty hard times right now, and everybody needs a little help now and then," he said.

There are a couple of things that Cruz has learned as a bell ringer over the years.

"People say, 'I'll give you some money if you quit ringing that bell," he said, laughing. "And the colder the weather, the better I think because people see you standing out there in the cold. I think they kind of feel sorry for you. So they give you money, whereas on a warm day, they're like, 'Oh maybe next time.'"

He said that he volunteers as a way of making a difference in the community.

"I guess I encourage people, as they pass a bell ringer, to drop a nickel in there, put something in there," he said. "I think the Salvation Army does a lot of good things. Robert (DeLeon) works very hard. He's very passionate about his job and helping kids. He always takes time for everybody. He's a very kind-hearted person, and we need more people like him."

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