HOUSTON (AP) - Former President Bush and wife, Barbara, rang bells for the Salvation Army outside a local furniture store Monday, hoping to promote volunteerism and give a lift to the fundraising effort in the final week before Christmas.
The Salvation Army is coming off a record-breaking year in 2005 for its 115-year-old Red Kettle Campaign, raising $111 million in pocket change, small and large bills and the occasional diamond ring or gold tooth.
However, as of late last week, two of the Salvation Army's four U.S. regions reported donations off as much as 11 percent from a year ago _ in large part because of a lack of volunteer bell ringers.
"We know we're down in some areas," said Salvation Army spokesman Melissa Temme. "But we're hopeful we can get to where we were last year in this last week."
The Bushes encouraged such giving and volunteerism, saying it was vital to the Salvation Army's mission to help after disasters such as the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and hurricanes Katrina and Rita last year.
Barbara Bush described herself as a bell-ringing veteran; the former president said he's volunteered a few times but wished he'd done it more.
"You never feel you do enough," George Bush said. "We enthusiastically support their charitable work."
Added Barbara Bush, "They're the best, the most sacrificing people we know."
About 100 people strolled by the Salvation Army's traditional red kettle and dropped in money while the Bushes rang bells.
Most shook hands and exchanged kind greetings with the Bushes, who live in Houston. Some took pictures with the former president.
The owner of the furniture store, Jim "Mattress Mack" McIngvale, dropped a check for $50,000 into the kettle.
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