About eight years ago, for whatever reason (they must have wanted a “talker”), I was asked to be the chairman of the local Salvation Army’s Christmas drive.
I have to tell you that, while I have always had the impression that the Salvation Army is a worthwhile organization, I didn’t really know too many specifics about what they did. But, when I expressed this reservation when they asked me to be a “spokesperson” during the Christmas season, they assured me they would take care of that! And they did!
The very first thing Major Turner (he and his wife were head of the local Salvation Army) did was take me on a tour of all of their facilities — and there were alot of them. We visited the “residence” where men who were recovering from addictions could live and receive counseling; the after-school care center, which was in a poorer neighborhood, and was a place where children could do their homework and be involved in supervised activities from the time school was out until their parents got home from work; and the main store’s warehouse, where everything that is donated to the SA is sorted and/or repaired to be given to their “clients” or for re-sale in their stores, or bundled and sold as scrap.
I was really impressed with all three, but I was especially impressed at the warehouse where I saw a man in a set-aside area surrounded by small appliances, methodically repairing those that could be repaired; another man taking clothes out of a bin, examining them, and then either hanging them on hangers on a rack or putting the “un-usables” in a stack to be bundled for sale as scrap. My first thought was, “All of these things that are somebody’s cast-offs, are being treated with RESPECT!” Maybe that seems like a strange word to use in this context, but think about how many of these things have been donated — sometimes left outside of collection bins in rain or snow. You know that things that are donated must come in in all conditions, so it impressed me that the things that the givers probably considered cast-offs, were being treated with “respect.” I liked that idea — because it showed respect for the people who would be the new owners of those items. I was a little surprised that I didn’t see any piles of things thrown carelessly in a corner, when they are dealing with such volume. It was a huge warehouse full of “stuff,” and when I think of how hard it is to manage just the “stuff” in a normal home, I was in awe of how organized and clean the area was. There was NOTHING on the floor. Pretty amazing.
Hubby and I were invited to dinner at the residence for recovering men, and we were impressed with the atmosphere of compassion, tempered with “tough love,” demonstrated by the counselors and their comfortable interaction with the men, and also with the cleanliness and order of the whole place (and the food was good too — I ALWAYS notice food!). Surely, some of the cleanest, safest, most “homey” accommodations some of those men had ever lived in.
I also attended some meetings of the Board, and met as caring a group of local business men and women as I have ever known. All busy people, who feel the SA is worth finding time in their busy schedules to support.
One evening, Hubby and I went to a board meeting in the basement of a local bank and helped members of the board (they are very hands-on) with counting, recording and preparing for deposit, money that had been collected in the SA kettles.
About a week before Christmas, we spent an evening at a location where “the rubber hits the road” on the collection of gifts for sponsored families. Each of us there (20 or so people) would take the list of items for a designated family and a big plastic bag, and then go around the room “filling the order” from the sorted stacks of donated items. When everything on the list was in the bag, you would staple it shut, with the list attached. It was ready to be delivered to the family! We also included some wrapping paper and ribbon, and scotch tape. The theory being that if a family is in hard times, wrapping paper is definitely a “luxury” they probably would skip in place of “necessities.”
We did that process over and over again until all the orders were bagged. A surprisingly emotional evening for me. Putting toys in a bag and imagining a parent who aches that they can’t give their children a Christmas, being able to now HAVE presents to give. And, thinking of the caring of the givers of these gifts as they picked them out for children they didn’t know, was very humbling too. A wonderful demonstration of what is best in Man.
However, I did learn one disturbing thing during this time, i.e., why they ABSOLUTELY WILL NOT take gifts that are already wrapped. Major Turner gave us an example from years ago, when he was assigned to the SA office in a major city. A beautifully wrapped gift was among those that had been donated. It was so beautiful, everyone present when it arrived agreed that it was hard to tear off those beautiful wrappings, and after all, there was a note on the outside that told what toy was in it, so that it COULD be given without unwrapping, but the. rule. was. NO WRAPPED GIFTS, so they unwrapped it. It was full of soiled diapers.
I ALWAYS remember that story when I donate something. No matter how “cute” I think I could wrap that gift for some little child, I know that it is better for the Salvation Army to receive it unwrapped, so that they KNOW what they are giving a child.
Another thing I found out about the Salvation Army is that they are verrry wise with the money that is donated to them. At that time, and I assume it’s still true, they were the best charity in the WORLD in the percent of the money that is donated to them that is actually passed through to the people in need — their percentage was 94%!
When I would go to the SA office, I would see first-hand how they handled people who came in through the front door, asking for assistance. For some of the clients, it didn’t seem that uncomfortable, and I assume they are people who, for one reason or another, have had to ask for assistance from charities often. But, some who came showed in their nervousness and down-cast eyes that this was probably a first time, and one of the toughest things they had ever done in their lives. My heart especially went out to young fathers who appeared to have had to swallow their pride in order to get help for their families. But, on the other side of the counter, what I saw was that the caring people in the Salvation Army organization treated all of these people exactly the same — with love and compassion, and without judgement. If they needed help, the SA was going to give it. Period.
The Salvation Army is a church (another thing I hadn’t known before), but they never “require” people to attend or believe as they do, in order to receive help. The SA is an organization that demonstrates God’s goodness and love to “the least of these” in the world, and they can use all our help.
So, this is a straight forward, unapologetic plea from me to you. When you are considering what charities to support at this time of year, please consider giving to the Salvation Army.
A Charity Worth Supporting!