Salvation Army’s legacy of extending a helping hand

Local church part of a worldwide work launched in 19th century London

With a flurry of activities and outreach plans, Christmastime has always been a particularly special time of year for Salvation Army congregations.

The urgency to lend a helping hand extends back to founder William Booth’s vision of ministry in the poverty-stricken east end of London, England, explains Major Larry Bridger of the Salvation Army Church & Community Services.

Booth spent years as a Methodist minister traveling all around the country and preaching. He returned to London with his family, and found himself extremely burdened by the state of the masses. London’s east end was known for excruciating poverty and alcoholism.

He formed ‘The Christian Mission’ which was changed in 1878 to the Salvation Army. By the time Booth died in 1912 the Army was at work in 58 countries. Today, the Army is ministering in about 120 countries.

His legacy lives on. “I think above all his compassion was second to none,” explains Bridger. “He had a real love and a real compassion for people and their needs. He was truly concerned about the poverty issues, and that’s why he did what he did. He was also an advocate for changing conditions.

“The Gospel message was of primary importance to him, and the well-being of people.”

In his day, churches also weren’t eager to allow the so-called ‘vagrants’ in for services. Booth would have none of it, and forming The Christian Mission provided the means for people he reached to have the opportunity to worship.

Over the years, the Christmas season became increasingly important to the Army as well. The famous kettle campaign has long been a familiar sight in communities around the world. Locally, the campaign runs through to Dec. 23.

Kettles are set up at Wal-Mart (north and south locations), Canadian Tire (north and south), Co-op (Deer Park), Scott’s Parable Christian Store, Save-On Foods (East Hill), Superstore and Costco, Bower Mall (Sears and Zellers mall entrances) and Parkland Mall. There is still room for volunteers to help out in this area as well.

This year’s fundraising goal is $185,000. Last year, about $181,000 was raised. The money supports many of the services provided by the church and its community services. “We depend on those funds to see us through the year.”

For more information, call Nicole Stewart, kettle coordinator at the church office.

The Salvation Army is also taking registrations for the Adopt-A-Family program through to Dec. 14. Folks in the community are invited to buy groceries and toys for a Christmas hamper. Putting together a hamper is a great project not only for individuals, but also for church groups, families and businesses. Those interested in filling a hamper will receive a gift list from the family they are assigned to help, and it’s all done anonymously.

Non-perishable foods can be included, and organizers recommend gift cards for grocery stores so that the family being helped can go out and buy their groceries close to Christmas.

Last year, 187 local families benefited from the Adopt-A-Family program, and staff expect that number to climb this year, said Bridger.

“We anticipate a minimum of 200 families,” he said. “So we are still looking for sponsors for the Adopt-A-Family program.”

For more information, call Shawna at the church office at 403-346-2251.

There are also lots of volunteer opportunities through the church’s Community Care Ministries team through December as they distribute gifts to those in hospitals as well as local seniors’ homes.

Other seasonal highlights at the Salvation Army include Breakfast With Santa on Dec. 10 at 9 a.m. Guests enjoy a hot breakfast buffet, carol singing, crafts and visit from Santa. Tickets are available through the church office.

Also, Christmas dinner will once again be served at the Salvation Army Dec. 25 at 1 p.m. Last year, about 150 people attended the event, and Bridger expects the same this year. A Christmas Eve service also runs at 6:30 p.m.

Community support, meanwhile, is encouraging. This past weekend, for the first time, the Salvation Army held their Santa Shuffle fun run in Red Deer in conjunction with the Running Room. More than 100 runners and walkers took part to raise funds for the work of the Salvation Army at Christmas.

Looking ahead, 2012 is a big year for the local church as it marks the 100th anniversary of the church in Red Deer.

Celebrations are planned through the year with the major event slated for October with guest speakers and a performance by the Canadian Staff Band of the Salvation Army.

For more about these events and volunteer opportunities with the Salvation Army, call 403-346-2251.