NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – A party is happening outside Macy’s Herald Square.
Guests of all ages and nationalities gather round the featured performers who entertain with abandon and ask for little in return, reports CBS2’s Jessica Moore.
“One dollar, New York!” they cry. “One dollar is all it takes to change a life!”
The musicians are carrying on a nearly 150-year tradition started by a man named William Booth, who walked the streets of London, saw the poor and impoverished, and decided to do something about it.
Booth envisioned an organization that would work tirelessly to fight and prevent homelessness, poverty, disaster, hunger, addiction and crisis.
Over the years, the Salvation Army’s mission hasn’t changed, but its methods have gotten a bit more spirited, led by two men with a unique connection to the cause. One of the bell ringers is ringing as much for himself as he is for anyone else.
“Five or six years ago, I was homeless, I was on drugs, and I was out of it,” said Anthony Bussey. “I was on the streets, nowhere to go, nowhere to turn and I saw the bell ringing sign.”
Bussey says the Salvation Army saved his life. “Trust me it really did, he said. “That’s what it means to me.”
Being out on the sidewalk ringing the bell now gives Bussey a natural high.
Beside him stands the man who has been by his side through it all, who found Bussey when he was running out of options and out of hope.
“Did you realize when you spoke to him he didn’t say any curse words?” said Salvation Army Corp. Lt. Chaka Watch. “About two years ago that never would’ve happened, so God is doing amazing things.”
Watch, famous for his unique bell-ringing skills, is third generation Salvation Army. He’s a vibrant, optimistic man who says he believes in second chances and children.
“Imagine if you were a child and you live upstairs, and on Christmas Day you go downstairs and you see under the tree there is no toy for you – imagine that,” he said. “What we are doing here is dancing and singing and people are giving one dollar, two dollars, and before you know it we are able to buy toys for children who wouldn’t be able to afford Christmas.”
The men take daily six-hour shifts in front of Macy’s Herald Square for weeks during the holiday season.
“It’s very tough, it’s very cold,” said Watch. “Sometimes it’s freezing temperatures, but we are out here because we know the real reason for what we’re doing: to bring joy to children, homeless people, brothers and sisters who can’t afford things we have. We don’t take life for granted.”
Bussey and Watch say the frigid exhaustion melts away when they lose themselves in the moment
“When I see kids dancing, and the ladies and gentleman saying thank you, you’re doing a good job, that makes me want to go on, keep making people happy,” said Bussey. “It makes me feel blessed that I have a purpose.”
That purpose? Giving others a chance to experience the same hope that turned his life around: one bell ring, one dance, one dollar at a time.