This past summer, my friend John was in his apartment in the Green Ridge section of Scranton. It was a leisure Saturday of Memorial Day weekend. He slipped his shoes off and turned on the television. He heard a fire alarm go off but was not alarmed. Often, in his building of five apartments located next to a bakery, the alarm would sound in error. He slipped his shoes back on, grabbed his cell phone and checked that his wallet was in his back pocket. He smelled smoke in the hallway and thought maybe it really was a fire. With his neighbors, he left. Sirens screamed as fire trucks screeched to a halt in front of the door.
His home was, indeed, on fire.
John stood outside with others gathering at the scene. He watched as professional fire fighters risked their lives, entered the building and did their best to extinguish the fire. Much effort went into the lifting of hoses and the dousing of that old, large structure with water but, in the end, the building could not be saved and no resident was allowed to re-enter the building.
John checked his resources. He was wearing a T shirt and shorts, had a cell phone with no charger and a wallet with a few dollars in it. That’s all! Every picture of family and friends, every useful thing he owned, every kitchen item he needed, every bit of extra clothing, every tool he had ever used, even his bicycle, had gone up in smoke.
When the loss of every single thing he owned dawned on him, Salvation Army members arrived. They offered clothing. They offered shelter. They offered food. Most of all, the Salvation Army offered a friendly hand and hope for the future.
We, Rotarians of the Abingtons, have begun our 2015 drive for the collection of funds for the Salvation Army. Our kettle is emptied many times as we do our two-hour shift work in front of the Pennsylvania Liquor Store on Routes 6 and 11 every weekend in December. We raise between $8,000 and $10,000 each year and give every cent of it to help local people through the Salvation Army. We have been collecting every December for almost 50 years. We hold the unique distinction of having raised more money for the Salvation Army than any other service club in the United States. We are very proud of that fact.
The mission of the Salvation Army is to feed, to clothe, to comfort, to care.
Its website states the mission: “To rebuild broken homes and broken lives. By walking with the addicted, we can lead them to recovery. In fighting hunger and poverty, we can feed and nurture the spirit. And, in living and sharing the Christian Gospel by meeting tangible needs, we give the world a lasting display of the love behind our beliefs.”
The Scranton-based Salvation Army Center is one of 7,546 in communities across the United States. These include food distribution, disaster relief, rehabilitation centers, anti-human trafficking efforts and a wealth of children’s programs. The work is funded through kettle donations, corporate contributions and the sale of goods donated to Salvation Army Family Stores. Eighty-two cents of every dollar collected supports various missions. When the CEOs of service agencies are making salaries of more than $300,000, the Salvation Army’s chief executive gets a modest house and a salary of $30,000.
The Salvation Army, an international movement, is an evangelical part of the universal Christian Church. Its message is based on the Bible. Its ministry is motivated by the love of God. Its mission is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs without discrimination.
As the months passed since the devastating fire that led to John’s home being demolished, I saw the results of the good things the Salvation Army helped him with. He has a new place to live. His furniture was selected from the local Salvation Army store. The hope they extended to him on the day of the fire has given John the courage to live without those things he saw go up in smoke.
I will don my Salvation Army vest on Sunday, Dec. 20 and stand at the kettle, like my fellow Rotarians will do through Christmas. I will ring the tiny bell, hoping to draw the attention of those going in and out of the liquor store to contribute to the large red kettle. I will be there in whatever weather arrives on that day.
Help me fill the kettle.