GALEN HOLLEY: Gentle hands and patient hearts at the Salvation Army

By Galen Holley/NEMS Daily Journal

Everyone comes with their hand out, and saying no, on the rare occasion, is the hardest part of the job.
Outside Susan Gilbert’s office, a seemingly endless line of anxious women wait. They come clutching mail, ready to make a case for why they need help.
Children’s clothes, power bills, the list goes on and on. Gilbert and her staff do the best they can to sort out and reason through it all, but it’s kind of like trying to pile up water.
At the Salvation Army the goal isn’t to judge or even to solve problems. It’s simply to help.
There’s no political agenda at the Army, no browbeating message about who’s ruining the country or what company to boycott. Systematic solutions are left up to city planners and politicians. When there’s an empty stomach, or a head in need of a pillow, the Salvation Army is there.
Around the Carnation Street office many of those who come to be served are known only by nicknames, like Slim and Sunshine and our late brother, Catfish.
People aren’t processed here. They’re fed and clothed and loved.
The poor laugh and joke with the staff because the reality of their lives is too grim not to have some outlet of silliness. They like having someone with a desk and uniform smile at them for a change.
At noon the hungry eat a lunch of oddly paired foods, like pizza and corn, or spaghetti and fruit salad, and they’re happy to get it. The Army serves what it can. Even those who drive up for lunch leave with pastries or boxed pizza.
Those staying in the lodge help out around the grounds. The staff won’t send them out into the merciless heat, so residents mop or mow or stack.
On a rare occasion Pep has to escort an unruly visitor off the premises, or some fellow with liquor on his breath, but most of the time everybody gets along fine.
Not everybody gets what he wants, but nobody leaves hungry or forgotten.
In her office Major Dorman pours over numbers, trying to stretch one dollar into two. She calls the thrift store to see how the day has gone. She sends Pep out in the van to pick up food someone has donated. She makes a pastoral visit to the family of one of the children who frequent the gym.
So much of the ministry is intangible, like showing someone how to apply for disability or Section 8 housing, or where to make an AA meeting.
It’s helping a battered woman who’s fled her hometown find a job. It’s agreeing to pay a guy’s power bill if he promises to put in an application at this place or that.
It’s dealing with the flotsam and jetsam that wash up in the lives of the poor.
It’s not an exact science, and it’s easy to criticize from a distance, but it takes a gentle hand and patient heart, and the folks at the Salvation Army do it well.
galen.holley@journalinc.com