by Dennis Dalman
Despite an ailing economy, the local Salvation Army raised an impressive $218,000 last year, an increase of $29,000 over 2010 and $45,000 more than in 2009.
That’s the good news.
The not-so-good news is that – because of an ailing economy – the need for Salvation Army help is also on the increase.
However, so far, so good, according to Jim Muellenbach, community development director for the facility in East St. Cloud.
Muellenbach said he is constantly impressed how the people in central Minnesota are so generous. In some areas, when the economy sags, so do contributions. Locally, Muellenbach said, it seems to be just the opposite – with people giving more when the economy heads south.
On Jan. 24, Muellenbach conducted a public tour of the Salvation Army headquarters, which was refashioned some years back from a motel in East St. Cloud, just off of Highway 10. About 20 people took the tour.
An estimated one in five people will suffer some kind of financial disaster in life, Muellenbach said.
It is a myth, he said, the Salvation Army ministers to the needs of the poorest of the poor. In fact, most people who need help are the “working poor” who suddenly fell on hard times for one reason or another: loss of job, divorce, death, debt load. That is not surprising, Muellenbach said, when about 70 percent of Americans are now living “paycheck to paycheck,” according to “The Wall Street Journal.”
Muellenbach introduced the tour visitors to the Salvation Army’s new directors, Majors Steven and Melody Koehler, who were ordained in Chicago. Steven Koehler said he grew up in a family in which faith and ministry mattered deeply. They still do, he said. He gave examples of the many kinds of generosity that helps the Salvation Army keep ministering to the needs of people.
For example, the employees of ING Direct, based in St. Cloud, donated countless hours of hands-on work last year at the facility – cleanup, remodeling, painting and more. In addition, volunteers staff the kitchen, where meals are cooked and served 365 days per year. The United Way of Central Minnesota gives $90,000 toward the food shelf, meals and shelter program. The Salvation Army bellringers bring in many thousands of dollars every holiday season, he added.
Muellenbach said many people are aware of the Salvation Army’s food shelf, on-site meals and temporary shelter programs, but most people don’t know the Salvation Army provides close to 40 other kinds of services to people. Some of those programs include a winter-coat drive and distribution; a back-to-school program that provides children with school supplies; a holiday toy program that provided 5,000 toys last year to 1,000 families; a youth program where young people can gather and do a variety of activities; a summer camp near Hinckley for both youth and adults; a woman’s program; a special extended-stay program for veterans; an on-site clinic; and many more services.
Recently, the St. Cloud City Council granted a request by the Salvation Army for extended stays for some clients. Now, 10 percent of those in the shelter program can stay up to 90 days if they are actively seeking work and other forms of self-help. Before the council’s decision, there was a strict limit of only 30-day stays per client.
There are 64 beds in the Salvation Army facility in East St. Cloud. Men are lodged in one section, mostly four beds to a room. Women are lodged in another section, and there is also a section for families. If there is an overflow of clients, some can be sent to Place of Hope in West St. Cloud, or to churches or other places for temporary shelter. The Salvation Army’s Veterans Program allows veterans to stay for shelter up to two years.
People staying at the shelter must get up every morning, then have breakfast and do job searches. There are many resources available for that pursuit – counselors, a resume-writing assistance course, job-search classes and a computer-and-research room. At night, those returning from work searches are given breathalyzers before being allowed to enter the facility.
Time and again, the staff at the Salvation Army receives heartfelt thank-you messages from people who needed a helping hand and who – thanks to Salvation Army services – were able to get back on their feet again. Muellenbach shared a thank-you card from a little girl who had stayed at the shelter at one time. Along with her card, she’d sent some gifts as comfort items for other people in the shelter.
Such kindness and gratitude from so many people, Muellenbach said, never fails to touch the hearts of those who work at the Salvation Army.