Salvation Army feels the pinch in tough year

Cranbrook church that's family to those in need is down $30,000.

When you get into trouble, and you don’t have family to turn to, the Salvation Army is there.

“If my children run into difficulty, I get a phone call and it’s, ‘Hey, Dad?’, and you just know by the tone of voice, it’s, ‘How much?” says Captain Kirk Green, head of the Salvation Army in Cranbrook.

“For a lot of people in the community, we are that family, because they don’t have family.”

Captain Kirk and community ministry worker Nancy Zier are recounting the story of a young woman the Salvation Army helped recently. She lost her job and was relying on the Salvation Army for food, until she was offered a full-time job as a waitress. Before she could start work, the young woman needed a Serving It Right certificate — $35 — and a $50 float. She didn’t have it.

“There are no parents,” adds Capt. Kirk. “Who do you go to to provide a $50 float? You come here. In a sense, we are that family.”

It’s just one example of the many small but significant things the Salvation Army does for people in need. Add to that its larger programs such as daily lunches for school children, the winter shelters, and 25 cent lunches, and you have a vital piece in the community’s puzzle.

But now, the church has found itself stuck between a rock and a hard place. This year, donations to the Salvation Army are about $30,000 less than they were last year.

“We had budgeted at this time of the year, we should have had an income of slightly more than $260,000. It is actually just slightly over $230,000,” says Capt. Kirk.

To manage the shortfall this year, the church is pulling money out of an emergency fund. But once that reserve is used up, it will be crunch time.

“Right now, we have taken it out of a contingency fund,” says Capt. Kirk. “We are going to manage to keep the lights on. But if this continues into the new year, we will have to make some hard decisions. It’s a matter of who do you lay off, or what program gets cut, or both.”

Perhaps, Capt. Kirk suggests, the drop in donations could be attributed to a kind of giving fatigue in the community, after the East Kootenay Foundation for Health’s Clear View mammography campaign raised $1 million in 11 months, and Community Connections raised $1 million over two years for the Kootenay Child Development Centre.

“I have nothing against the fundraising that went on in the community. They are great causes; we supported them ourselves. But when you have two major fundraisers take $2 million out of the community, it affects everybody,” says Capt. Kirk. “It has left some of us a little on the short end.”

The Salvation Army is feeling the pinch financially at the same time as the need for its services sky rockets.

In 2009 the church gave out $40,965 at Christmas time in food, toys and clothing. Last Christmas, it had grown to $99,000.

Last week, the Salvation Army provided 390 school lunches for children in Cranbrook – about 80 each day. It expects to make about 15,000 lunches this year, up about 1,000 from 2011. Each lunch costs $3, so the annual total for the program is expected to cost $45,000.

These are tough times, Capt. Kirk continues: “We’ve had some recent store closings. There hasn’t been as much construction. It’s all part and parcel.

“We are getting a lot more first-time users. The working poor: ‘I used to be able to pay my bills, I used to be able to put food on the table.’ Now, Mom’s lost her job, Dad’s lost his hours.'”

Nancy nods agreement: “I’ve worked with so many people recently who have been in the position to be able to afford to give in their life. And now they are not; they are receiving. They come into my office and they are in shock. They can’t believe they are in my office.”

The numbers of homeless people in the community is growing too. Between August 2010 and February 2011, 302 people connected with the Homeless Outreach Program. That consists of people living in public spaces, people living in emergency or temporary shelters, those who are couch surfing, and those who are at imminent risk of homelessness.

“For a lot of people, they are not welcome anywhere,” Nancy explains. “They can’t get in the library, they’re not allowed in the Rec Plex, they’re not allowed in the mall. So they can come here with their head up and get a nice warm cup of coffee and a warm bowl of porridge, and get a warm welcome. They can have a shower and do some laundry and just have some peace and quiet. No one’s going to kick them out. They can get a little serenity in the day. When your mission for the day is trying to figure out where you are going to sleep tonight, then that preoccupies you and ill-equips you for being kicked out of places harshly.”

The Salvation Army has many ways to help. As well as laundry and shower facilities and a free breakfast four days a week, the church offers a “good food basket” with fresh produce for $10, which they top up with an extra $5 of goods. There’s a program called the Sally Ann Shopping Cart, where volunteers go out and buy goods in bulk, then separate them into individual servings for purchase – things like a single roll of toilet paper, a handful of feminine supplies, a day’s dog or cat food.

“You can come in and buy 10 coffee filters or two pots of coffee. So your $10 will get you through a few days,” explains Nancy.

The church offers anger management and grief counselling, a connection to a pro bono lawyer, and even volunteer opportunities.

“Some people in need want to pay back for whatever they have been given – today. They want to know what they can do in the thrift store to help,” says Nancy.

Starting November 1, the Salvation Army will be providing overnight shelter for both men and women at the church. About a dozen men will be housed in the dining room, and about a dozen women in the church sanctuary. Families will be given separate accommodation. Two staff – a human services worker and a security guard – will be on hand each night from 10 p.m. till 8 a.m.

In summer, when the shelter is closed, the church gives out tents and sleeping bags to people who don’t have a place to sleep. Recently, there were two instances where single mothers came to the Salvation Army asking for a tent to house two children in one case, and five children in another. The church connected with other agencies to come up with a different solution for such exceptional circumstances.

But although the Salvation Army is facing a difficult time, Capt. Kirk says he has faith the community will rally around once more.

“The Salvation Army needs the community’s help. We are $30,000 down and we would like to continue to do everything we have been doing because there is a need. This is a very generous community; they have always stepped up to the plate.”

To donate to the Salvation Army in Cranbrook, phone 250-426-3612.

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