While The Salvation Army works in the community all year long, its members are most active and visible around the Christmas holiday.
This year, the local Salvation Army, located at 312 S. Fayette St., will serve 476 families throughout Raleigh, Fayette, Summers and Wyoming counties, providing Christmas across the region, said Capt. Robert Barber.
Barber explained that The Salvation Army has been in southern West Virginia since the mid-1980s.
Many families are referred to them through the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, but anyone can submit an application for their children to be placed on Angel Trees.
“By the end of September we start accepting applications. What makes us a little different is that we base our decision on available income, not total income,” Barber explained. “Many families can manage their mortgage or car payments, but there just isn’t enough money for Christmas.”
The Salvation Army serves children 12 and under, but also tries to provide something for older children.
After individuals adopt a child from the Angel Tree, volunteers make sure children in the same family have equal numbers of toys and they try to do something special for older siblings who are over 12.
“We don’t do toys for the teens, but we still try to make sure there is something special for them if we can and we try to provide parents the opportunity to feel like they are a part of it by wrapping the gifts and giving them to the kids,” he said.
For many of the older kids, they try to provide clothing items or hats and gloves.
For Barber, helping to make sure children have a good Christmas is close to his heart.
“When I was a junior in high school my dad lost his business. For Christmas dinner we had Hamburger Helper without the hamburger. I remember clearly that dad did not get a check until after Jan. 1. That was life-changing for me because I did not realize how well off I had it growing up until I didn’t have it,” he said.
“Since then and since I became a part of The Salvation Army, the idea of kids going through the holidays without Christmas is hard, even older kids. They need to know there is something special about the holiday.”
Most of the money raised ringing bells at area stores is to purchase toys and other items for The Salvation Army Christmas giveaway.
In addition, donations go to the ongoing food pantry and to support utilities at the office/chapel location on Fayette Street.
Their food pantry, said Barber, is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., and those referred through DHHR can receive a food basket every 90 days.
The Salvation Army does do special Thanksgiving and Christmas food baskets and this year they spent around $15,000 on food (above and beyond donations of food) for needy families during Thanksgiving, he said.
“In the last couple of years the demand for food baskets has continued to grow and grow. Two years ago we averaged less than 40 families a week. Now we average 50 to 60 families throughout the year. Just last month we distributed food baskets to 169 families,” Barber shared.
In addition to these ministries, the organization has funds to help with utility bills as needed and participates with the Emergency Food and Shelter Program, providing vouchers for clothing and food to flood, fire and homeless victims, he said.
Often the organization teams up with the Women’s Resource Center and helps furnish apartments for victims of domestic abuse.
The Salvation Army can be seen helping with disaster relief, most recently during floods in the Beaver area and during the Upper Big Branch mine disaster.
On Thursday nights The Salvation Army has a character-building program for underprivileged, school-age youth and in much the same fashion as the original ministry, The Salvation Army offers a Sunday church service that includes breakfast and lunch to folks in need.
You can help support The Salvation Army through monetary and food donations and by supporting their thrift stores with donations.
The organization is also having a coat, hat and glove drive through the end of January. These items can be dropped off at their headquarters, 312 S. Fayette St.
To ask about volunteering in other ways, you can reach The Salvation Army by phone at 304-253-9541.
— E-mail: splummer @register-herald.com
The Salvation Army is one of the most well-known and respected charitable organizations in part because of its sheer longevity, nearly 150 years of active service.
But although the times have changed, Capt. Robert Barber with The Salvation Army’s local outpost points out the vision behind the organization — personal salvation and care for the poor — remains the same.
Barber explained that The Salvation Army was founded in 1865 by William Booth, a minister for the Methodist New Connection Church in England.
Booth had been a pawnbroker, but after watching men pawn their wedding rings for food for their families or for alcohol, he began working with those who lived on the streets, many of whom the church did not welcome, said Barber.
“Booth’s intention was never to start a church, but just to minister to people. When he found out they were not welcome in many of the established churches, he started The Christian Mission in the late 1800s as well as a program called Soup, Soap and Salvation,” he said.
Booth’s philosophy was the men could not ‘hear the Gospel over the rumblings of their stomach,’ so the less fortunate would have a chance to get a hot meal, clean up and then have a church service, said Barber.
In many instances, The Salvation Army went to the poor — wherever they were — to minister to them. One of the earliest Salvation Army chapels was inside a bar called the Blind Beggar, noted Barber. Because the folks did not know church hymns, the army set religious lyrics to bar tunes.
“In many ways Booth was almost a crazy person because he was so obsessed with the salvation of people’s souls and the suffering of the human condition,” he said.
Eventually The Salvation Army spread to the United States and India and then to many other countries. Today the organization is in 124 countries and is the only recognized church doing service in China.
Over the last century, The Salvation Army has become most famous for its social service ministries, which are often very visible, from Angel Trees to bell ringers.
“Our red kettle has become an icon of American tradition, and it started in California,” he said. “A captain in California began hanging out a pot and people would put whatever food they could in it and he would use it to make soup to feed the homeless. Eventually money began being donated and it evolved into just being a collection for monetary donations.”
— Sarah Plummer
ABOUT THE SERIES:
The work of the United Way of Southern West Virginia is diverse throughout Raleigh, Fayette, Wyoming, Summers and Nicholas counties, but the work it does is only as diverse as the need in our area.
And for Executive Director Margaret O’Neal, no need seems so large that it can’t be helped and no need is so small that it seems insignificant.
And so, the United Way of Southern West Virginia services those needs through 33 agencies in those five counties.
This continuing series will focus on those agencies and how they meet needs — large and small.
Donations to help all of these agencies can be made to the United Way of Southern West Virginia, 104 Wilson St., Beckley, WV 25801 or call 304-253-2111.