TERRE HAUTE —
Sometimes, the unexpected happens.
Worst-case scenarios play out. A “that-will-never-affect-me” situation hits anyway.
Those stories show up routinely at the Salvation Army, in the form of real, flesh-and-blood, shell-shocked people. The act of asking for help often is a new and raw experience. Among the first faces those folks see is that of Gordon Hoag, administrator at the Salvation Army of Terre Haute.
That moment may be one of the hardest in a person’s life.
“If you’ve got any pride at all, it’s very difficult to make that first appointment,” Hoag said. “If you’ve never had to do that, it can wear on your self-esteem.”
The response they receive is important — probably unforgettable.
“We try to treat every person with the utmost respect and dignity,” Hoag explained Wednesday morning. “We try to reassure them that everybody goes through tough times now and then, and that it’s OK to ask for help.” In fact, 1 out of 5 recipients of Salvation Army assistance locally are doing so for the first time.
A few hours after Hoag spoke, the local Salvation Army kicked off its annual Red Kettle drive in Honey Creek Mall, continuing a 121-year-old tradition by the international Christian charity organization.
The donations dropped into those kettles during the holiday season fund multiple services offered by the Salvation Army all year long. That includes providing food, clothes and emotional support for men, women and kids coping with one of those never-saw-it-coming crises.
For the fortunate among us, that Salvation Army bellringer and the Red Kettle are as close as we’ll get to the troubles of the needy.
So drop something in. Volunteer for one of their Christmas-season projects. Donate food, clothes or toys. Then, be thankful if you haven’t been felled by such hardship — a life-threatening illness with large medical costs, a job loss or hefty income cut, a family breakup, the death of the household provider.
“It can take just one unexpected expense a month to throw somebody way off, whether it’s a car repair or a doctor’s bill,” Hoag said. “And then, they have to make a choice — do we pay this bill, or buy food, or fix the car, or keep the lights on?”
Last year, Terre Haute’s Salvation Army assisted 1,649 families, touching more than 5,000 individuals. At this point in the holiday season, the local chapter is on pace to eclipse that mark, having helped 1,434 families already. The need has increased. In 2011, the organization raised $173,000 in contributions; this year, it needs $180,000.
“Obviously, they [also] need hundreds of volunteers,” said Honnalora Hubbard, a local minister, executive director of Terre Haute Ministries and chairperson for the Salvation Army’s 2012 Christmas campaign. Those volunteers, as well as the recipients, inspired Hubbard to take on the latter role for a second consecutive year. While chairperson last year, Hubbard’s son, Anthony, was serving in the U.S. military in Afghanistan. She’d never been apart from him before.
“It was an absolute blessing for me to get to spend Christmas with a thousand other people,” Hubbard said.
Not surprisingly, she highly recommends volunteering for one of the many holiday projects involving the Salvation Army. That might mean delivering food to the homes of the needy in the Tribune-Star Christmas Basket Fund early on Christmas Eve morning. Or walking with parents as their kids choose toys in the Marine Corps Reserve’s Toys for Tots program Dec. 19 at the Wabash Valley Fairgrounds. Or answering phones at the Salvation Army offices at 234 S. Eighth St. Or ringing the Red Kettle bell outside local stores for a couple hours. (Hubbard suggests bringing a friend to ring the bells. “Doing it in a pair is a lot more fun,” she said.)
Or, “the one thing that seems the most overlooked — put a dollar in the kettle,” Hubbard said.
Volunteering, though, brings enlightenment. Hubbard remembers helping deliver the Tribune-Star Christmas Baskets for the first time. The Salvation Army handles the applications for those boxes, filled with enough food for a Christmas dinner with all the trimmings, and then volunteers organized by the newspaper deliver the baskets early in the morning each Dec. 24. The experience of knocking on those doors, and walking inside, reminded Hubbard of her own childhood, growing up in a needy West Terre Haute home.
“I get what it is to be on the other side of that door,” she said.
Many of us, by the grace of God, do not. Participants in the Salvation Army’s holiday efforts become more appreciative of that good fortune.
Mark Bennett can be reached at 812-231-4377 or firstname.lastname@example.org.