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Help to spread hope

In the 1970s in Red Deer provincial court, an elderly Salvation Army officer named Jack always sat, his eyes and ears trained on the proceedings.

Jack was a humble, compassionate, caring person. He was there on a mission — to comfort some of the people who were appearing before the judge. Frequently his eyes welled up with tears when he heard horrible hard-luck stories that led a down-and-out person to turn to crime.

Drug addicts, alcoholics, young offenders from broken families, and others that society might consider hopeless cases drew Jack’s attention. After court adjourned, he quickly made his way to the court’s basement holding cells, where he consoled some and offered all the help Red Deer’s Salvation Army could offer them — food, clothing, shelter, love, compassion and hope.

Jack never preached, but he adopted the philosophy of the Salvation Army, which was started in England in 1865 by William Booth and began work in Canada in 1882. Booth’s philosophy was that there is little point preaching salvation to hungry people. And so the concept of ‘soup and salvation’ was born.

Canadians last week were shocked when it was revealed that a Salvation Army representative allegedly bilked the charity of hundreds of thousands of dollars and stole about $2 million worth of donated goods.

Toronto police discovered the massive cache of stolen goods from a Salvation Army warehouse in Brampton, Ont. There was 146 skids stacked with toys, baby cribs, strollers, food and other donated items. Those responsible had to use three tractor-trailers to haul the items. The nearly 100,000 items were stolen from the charity’s facility in north-end Toronto over two years and were allegedly being sold for profit.

The timing could not have been worse for the Salvation Army. The organization was in the process of launching its annual Kettle Campaign when the news broke.

What would Christmas be without the age-old Yule fundraiser? The program reminds us that the Yule season is a time to reflect on our good fortunes and extend love and compassion to those less fortunate. It spirits a warm feeling among many.

This scandal should not deter those from giving generously to the Salvation Army this season.

For the last almost 150 years, members of this charity have steadfastly worked among the poor to offer help, embracing people who often live under horrific circumstances.

During the First World War, troops reported they could always tell how close they were to the front lines by the number of aid organizations present. When the soldiers eventually reached the front, the only charity left extending a comforting hand was the Salvation Army.

The charity’s reputation speaks for itself, despite this recent isolated scandal.

Red Deer’s Salvation Army unit has afforded dignity and support to thousands over the years.

Last year’s Kettle Campaign raised $198,000 here. This year, the charity is aiming for $190,000.

But hopefully, given our current economic situation in which thousands of Central Alberta children are living in poverty, that goal will surpass the 2011 best-ever year for the local brigade.

The local Salvation Army is also once again embarking on its annual Adopt-a-Family program to help spread the joy of the season.

Those participating adopt a family to support.

“I think it makes a vast difference for people . . . who otherwise would not have practically anything at all,” said Red Deer Salvation Army Major Larry Bridger. “We hear so many families are grateful, saying ‘You’ve made our Christmas’.”

Just like Jack in the old court house, the Salvation Army continues to play a vital role in helping those in need and spreading hope in our community.

Rick Zemanek is a former Advocate editor.



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