Mark Brown walked through the doors of the Glenwood Springs Salvation Army office at 918 Grand Ave. on a sunny November afternoon, ready to man the bell and kettle. Shoppers at Safeway, City Market, Walmart, and other stores can't miss the festive bell-ringers and signature Salvation Army red kettles this time of year. Brown, an affable man who's seen better times, says it's a good way to fill part of the day. "I've got a lot of time on my hands due to lack of work and the lack of snow," he said. Brown, in his early fifties, plans to enter CMC in January and gives his current address as the homeless shelter in Glenwood Springs. "They know me at Catholic Charities," he explained with a smile. "And, they know me at Feed My Sheep, so it's a way to say thank you for all your help." Karen Lee, client services coordinator at the Glenwood Springs office, said there are 10 sites this year, including Clark's in Battlement Mesa and the Silt Kum & Go. "Each location has a service group that runs it," she explained. The bell-ringing holiday fundraiser has been a Salvation Army tradition since 1891. That's right, for a 121 years - bell-ringing has been happening across America since a year after the "Sally" was founded. It typically lasts from the day after Thanksgiving to New Year's Day. This year's national goal is $3 million. JC Penney, which has a store at the Glenwood Springs Mall, is participating on the national level. Shoppers can round up the cost of their holiday purchases to donate to the Red Kettle Campaign. Supporters can also host their own kettle online. "The Salvation Army is undeterred by the lingering downturn in the nation's economy" says the website, true to the can-do spirit of the organization.
The Salvation Army has soldiered on since founder William Booth started ministering to London's poor and downtrodden in the mid-1800s. "It's a church," explained Lee, who spent two years in the Peace Corps as an HIV/AIDS educator in Swaziland. She's been with the Salvation Army since August, 2011. "I'm an employee and not a part of the church," she explained. But Booth's mission of "soup, soap and salvation" is woven into the work Lee does. Booth had sort of a Maslow's hierarchy of needs approach to working with the poor. "No one gets a blessing if they have cold feet, and nobody ever got saved while they had a toothache," Booth wrote.In other words, Booth believed physical and social needs had to be met before people could hear God's message. "You have to develop the humanitarian part first," added Lee. In Glenwood Springs that means helping people with the basics, such as rent, gas, utilities and occasionally other necessities. Lee sees an average of 100 clients a month. "Most are middle class people who have lost work," she said. "Something happened and they don't have enough money to sustain themselves." She recalled a recent client with a brain tumor whose family could not afford medical help. The Salvation Army lent a hand. "How do you make a choice: brain surgery or rent?" she asked. Medical assistance is rare; rent assistance is not. But Lee said she'd rather give a hand up than a hand out. An unemployed construction worker on probation stopped by the office needing housing assistance. He told Lee and a reporter that he lived in a motel. He had the promise of a job but this week's rent was due. And no residence could mean a probation violation and a return trip to jail. "I'd rather give [money] toward an affordable place of his own," she said. "But sometimes people are between a rock and a hard place." Lee said homelessness is a community problem that jails, community corrections and other agencies need to address. "It's illegal to be homeless in America," she said. And, it could happen to anybody. "If I lose my job, I have a month to stay in my house," she explained. "It's that easy." Brown agreed on his way out the door. "If I could wave a wand," he added, "I'd make the homelessness problem go away." The Glenwood Springs Salvation Army client service hours are 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday.