These are the powerful words of William Booth, words that became the mission of The Salvation Army. Booth founded the organization along with his wife, Catherine, in 1865 in London, England, to help combat the immense poverty and suffering that was spreading in the region. The Salvation Army is motivated by the love of God and a commitment to preaching the Gospel while meeting human needs without discrimination. These core beliefs still stand true for The Salvation Army Corps of the Midlands, which was established in 1906 in an effort to combat homelessness, hopelessness, and hardship in the community.
Since its founding in the Midlands, The Salvation Army has delivered clothing, housing, support, hope, and encouragement to countless members of the Columbia community. Many have no doubt seen the motto emblazoned on the side of The Salvation Army truck: “Doing the Most Good.” And, indeed, they are living up to William Booth’s charter to seek and save the lost. The military culture that infuses the organization was again of Booth’s creation, who called on his “Army of Volunteers” for support. The formidable commitment to service is still deeply rooted in the organization today.
For many, the organization’s most recognizable effort is the famous red kettle with bell ringers who joyfully appear on the doorstep of storefronts throughout the holiday season. But that is just the tip of the iceberg. In fact, the red kettle endeavor, while an extremely successful campaign, only brought in 9 percent ($331,719.55) of the organization’s funds for the 2018 fiscal year.
Without question, the red kettle campaign and individual donors are critical to The Salvation Army’s fundraising efforts, but so are monies received through grants and foundations. The Salvation Army is continually looking for new ways to reach donors through social media and donor lunches, as well as providing new ways to give. For example, through a partnership with Amazon, donors are able to easily donate by saying, “Alexa, make a donation to The Salvation Army.” This year, the organization is making smart advancements in technology and will use Apple Pay and Google Pay at its red kettle locations, providing an alternate way to give to those who want to donate but don’t have cash readily available.
In addition to the red kettle fundraiser, The Salvation Army looks to raise money through other programs and outlets, including Midlands Gives, an annual one-day giving challenge; the Send-A-Kid to Camp program; a Christmas donation outreach; The Salvation Army Family Stores; and church fundraisers.
With the number of worthwhile charities looking for their share of donations, some may think that The Salvation Army struggles to keep a thriving donor base, but the opposite is true.
“Every program and service we offer continues to build in strength and number,” says Maj. Henry Morris, area commander for The Salvation Army of the Midlands. “The support is remaining strong! Our funding and volunteers continue to grow, representing a stable and consistent direction for The Salvation Army of the Midlands. We have maintained strong leadership through a hard-working, involved advisory board, a community that volunteers and financially supports our programs, partnerships with other affiliates, commanding officers who serve as local missionaries, and a staff that is devoted to serving and caring for our community.”
The Salvation Army’s local affiliates are plenty, underscoring the value others see in the organization and their commitment to its mission. Affiliate partners include The United Way, Central Carolina Community Foundation, the Department of Social Services, 180 Place, the University of South Carolina Supportive Housing, the Mental Illness Recovery Center, Harvest Hope Food Bank, Richland School Districts One and Two, Lexington/Richland Five School District, Richland Library, and the City of Columbia Police Department, among others.
Having partnerships with stellar organizations like these has been instrumental in helping The Salvation Army deliver on its mission. “When The Salvation Army Christian Church first started out, someone coined the famous motto: Soup, Soap, and Salvation,” says Henry. “First soup, as we look after a person’s immediate physical needs. Then soap, as we restore a person’s dignity and get them back into society. Then lastly salvation, where we share the Gospel with them and hope they’ll accept God’s plan for their lives. In other words, it is hard to talk to someone about spiritual matters when they are down and out and hungry.”
The support The Salvation Army delivered this past year alone underscores this promise. In 2018, The Salvation Army served nearly 275,000 hot, nutritious meals to the homeless at Transitions, the Midlands’ largest homeless shelter, and the Inclement Weather Center, which operates on nights when the temperature is expected to be below 40 degrees or severe weather is present.
This past year, The Salvation Army also provided rent assistance to 177 families who were facing eviction and utility assistance to 957 families who were facing utility cutoff. Permanent housing assistance was also provided to 135 households previously homeless. There is no denying that The Salvation Army is changing the lives of people in Columbia.
Marvin Richardson is one of those people. For 30 years, Marvin was a drug dealer and an addict, along with his other problems, who spent time in prison. “I walked outside, ready to make a drug deal, and the sun hit me. I just heard a voice saying, ‘It’s time,’” says Marvin. “I went into the house, came back out, and heard it again. I knew it was God. I called my niece, and she brought me to The Salvation Army.”
Since then, Marvin has completed a drug rehabilitation program and leaned on the support of The Salvation Army to help him get his life back. He is now an employee of the organization, serving others instead of himself. The respect given to him by The Salvation Army was life-changing. A completely transformed man, Marvin now serves as a mentor to others. “On my 47th birthday, I played basketball by myself in the rain and just cried,” he says. “For the first time in 30 years, I was celebrating my birthday clean. If it weren’t for The Salvation Army, I wouldn’t have known my purpose. I have found my passion.”
Melani Miller’s story started out differently. By all appearances, her life was on the right track — a great education, well-respected, and 25 years as a state employee. Underneath it all, Melani was depressed and anxious. When her mother died, she became isolated and numbed the pain with alcohol and drugs, eventually developing a serious addiction and losing everything: car, home, job, retirement, family relationships, and more. Melani’s life continued to spiral out of control, and after reaching a personal low, she knew she had to change. It took her three days to save a mere 50 cents. When she did, she called her brother, who helped her enter a detox facility. Afterwards, she was connected with The Salvation Army, where she received the necessary help to rebuild her life.
“Many people believe that homelessness could never happen to them; I certainly thought that,” says Melani. “But it happened to me, and it could happen again if I lose focus. The most important part of my recovery is spiritual healing. God helps me every day make meaning of my experiences.” Melani shares her story and these experiences through The Salvation Army, providing hope and encouragement to those who, like her, may have lost it at some point on their life’s journey.
Marvin and Melani are but two voices among many — two human beings whose lives could have continued down a much darker path without help from The Salvation Army and its valuable programs and services.
While The Salvation Army takes a holistic view of the person, the organization is also available to provide basic necessities for those in need in the community. This past year, 813 clothing vouchers and 130 furniture vouchers were issued. They served more than 3,500 families through “Christmas Assistance,” which provides toys to eligible families with children ages 12 and younger. A record-breaking number of 173 children attended The Salvation Army summer camps, while more than 400 children received backpacks filled with school supplies. In addition, 30 students attend the organization’s after-school reading program, Leveraging Literacy. The program is offered at no cost to students in grades one through five who are reading below their grade level. The Salvation Army also provides services to families touched by natural and other disasters.
“The distinguishing characteristic of our organization’s work is motivated by the love of God to meet human needs,” says Henry. “We treat everyone with warmth, respect, and dignity. We work with families, children, single parent households, and seniors who face the barriers of poverty every day. We try to develop a relationship and expand the support and resources needed to strengthen these families.”
The more involvement the community provides to the organization, the greater the impact The Salvation Army can have. Volunteers, donors, and advocates support this army in bringing a better life to all. The red kettles are waiting.