Salvation Army truck

There goes our old sofa! It’s a long story, and not the one I want to tell you today. The one for today is about the people who took away the old sofa – and the matching loveseat, the beat-up computer table, bits and pieces of the old computer, a long-handled kitchen fork and a couple of bags of miscellaneous household goods: The Salvation Army.

If you’re like me, you have a vague sense that the Salvation Army helps people, that its volunteers raise money around Christmas by ringing a bell next to a red kettle into which one may put cash.

Photo courtesy of Staytondailyphoto.com (Oregon)

Photo courtesy of Staytondailyphoto.com (Oregon)

Perhaps you’ve visited one of the almost 1,500 thrift stores, looking for bargains or dropping off contributions.  One of those stores is no doubt the destination of the disapearing sofa, etc.

I knew from some volunteer work years ago that the Salvation Army is a ‘front line’ agency – that is, they are there to help people in immediate need: those with no place to go, those who are hungry, those who are in dire straits. The United Way I was with so long ago gave money to the Salvation Army in spite of its being a religious organization because it was front line, and because the work it does can literally save lives.

I also knew from hearsay that the organization is evangelically Christian (Army??) and that it is rigorously conservative, taking a dim few, for example, of homosexuality. Happily, a visit to the Army’s web site suggests that, in spite of their extremely orthodox, conservative and evangelical approach, they are making a concerted effort to be more inclusive, at least in their rhetoric (if you want to know more about the Salvation Army’s history, organization and tenets, click here.  It’s pretty interesting).

Wikipedia tells us “the Salvation Army is one of the world’s largest providers of social aid, with expenditures including operating costs of $2.6 billion in 2004, helping more than 32 million people in the U.S. alone. In addition to community centers and disaster relief, the organization does work in refugee camps, especially among displaced people in Africa. The Salvation Army has received an A- rating from the American Institute of Philanthropy.”

Well, okay.  That’s all interesting. But back to those sofas. Two men came in the “Sally Van” to pick up our no-longer-wanted furniture; meeting them was one of the highlights of my week.

Meet Steve and Scott:

Steve and Scott

We got talking as they shifted our furniture, and Steve mentioned that he had been homeless for ten years.

“How could you be homeless for ten years?” I asked. “Did you lose your job and just couldn’t find another?” He is a bright, organized man, and it just didn’t make sense to me.

“Drugs and alcohol,” he replied.

“Ohhh,” I said, in some embarrassment at being so dense.

“That’s my story too,” said Scott, who volunteers 40 hours a week with the Salvation Army (Steve is now a paid employee).

Steve went on to tell me with justifiable pride that he had just celebrated his fifth anniversary of being ‘clean and sober.’

Scott has been off the streets and sober now for five months.

I wondered aloud what percentage of people who work at the Salvation Army are volunteers like Scott, and what percentage are paid. Scott opined that only about 10-15% of the staff are paid; all the rest are volunteers. And each one has his own story, no doubt. Just here in Phoenix there are ten vans that go out every single day alternating between East Valley and West Valley. Each day they come back to the warehouse chock-a-block full of things like our sofa (on a good day) and our computer desk (on a normal day). That is to say that they will take things for which you might not be able to imagine a use, things that might be a little beat-up and well-used. Some items the volunteers will repair, some will go right into the shops after being cleaned and sanitized, and some are auctioned off to others who will find a use for them.  It is a great way to breathe new life into old things.

But much more than that, it is a new way to breathe new life into a person who has faltered and needs help. I can’t imagine anything more difficult than being addicted to drugs or alcohol, and then being strong enough to recover.  What courage! While one might or might not agree with the religious tenets of the Salvation Army, one can only applaud the work they do saving people like Steve and Scott. Meeting them was a humbling pleasure.