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A Party with Purpose

There were quite a few events that led to Sally Carver’s involvement with The Salvation Army, which could be the reason why she doesn’t believe in coincidences.

For example, on Jan. 7, 1941, Jerry Hopkins was abandoned on the doorstep of a home in Atlanta, Ga., just hours after being born. Years later, he would become her husband.  In 1984, the couple researched Jerry’s past. A year later, they discovered the exact spot where the infant Jerry had been deposited—next door to a house owned by The Salvation Army.

Police speculated that Jerry’s mother tried to leave him at the Salvation Army house, but with no lights on and no one home, she left him next door instead. In 1985, on the day they made their discovery, Sally stood in the driveway dividing the two homes and made a vow to her husband.

“When I retire, I’m going to go to work for The Salvation Army,” she said.

Her husband, an airline pilot at the time, asked his flight attendant wife why she would want to do that.

“They’re my kind of people,” she said. “When they get on an airplane, they never have carry–on luggage. They never order a cocktail. If you’re late, they never complain, and no matter what you serve them to eat, they’re thankful to have it.”

Sally made good on her promise. When she stopped flying in 1989 after 25 years as a flight attendant, the couple retired to New Hampshire. She then stood kettles for The Salvation Army in Laconia. Today, Sally and Jerry also host an annual Christmas party at their home in Moultonborough. Over the years, they’ve raised more than $500,000.

Her love for The Salvation Army goes beyond her husband’s story. In the 1920s, her father’s family was evicted from their apartment in Cambridge, Mass. The Salvation Army not only paid the family’s rent, but helped move them back in. Sally has always remembered that story.

Sally, who has been a member of the advisory board for the Laconia Corps since 1998, also remembers the day she walked into the corps in the mid–1990s and asked for a kettle.

“I said, ‘Give me a kettle and I’ll ring it wherever I am, and I’ll bring you the money at the end of the season,’” Sally recalls.

Persistence pays off

Sally was told that wasn’t the way the kettle policy worked, but she pleaded with the staff.

“I said, ‘Why? The Hare Krishnas ring at Logan Airport, why can’t I?’” Sally said.

She finally agreed to give the corps a $500 check and told the staff they could keep it if she didn’t return. The persuasive Sally got her kettle and began ringing in nearby Center Harbor and Plymouth.

“I got people to help me ring at supermarkets, banks, and lots of other places,” she said. “It just started to grow from there.”

Sally, who once raised $15,000 in three days for Hurricane Katrina relief, said she likes it when military veterans share stories about getting help from The Salvation Army. Another time, a boy who had saved his change all year for a Christmas present, put his money in the kettle, one coin at a time, rather than spend it on himself.

“He was a little boy, probably no more than 8,” Sally said. “It’s those things I find pretty emotional.”

When Sally and Jerry lived in Boston, they held a Christmas party every year for their airline friends and donated the proceeds to Boston Children’s Hospital. She continued the party in New Hampshire and would set a kettle by the door for guests to give, but the proceeds were minimal.

Sally finally decided to take it to the next level and hold a fundraiser/party each year just for The Salvation Army.

“I entertain easily, so this works,” Sally says. The people in our community look forward to it because it’s the kickoff to the holiday season.”

The menu for the party features 26 pounds of giant shrimp, beef tenderloin, smoked salmon, ham, crab cakes, desserts, beverages, and more. Everyone writes a check at the party.

“We serve lovely food and Jerry and I pay for all of that,” Sally says. “Every single dime that comes through that door goes to the Laconia Corps.”

Quite a few dimes have come through. The first party in 2003 raised $2,300, but last year’s extravaganza drew 82 people and raised $75,000. This year’s party, scheduled for Dec. 7, will push the total to over $500,000 since it began.

“It has grown very nicely,” Sally said. “I don’t want anyone to know who gives what. I take the checks out of the envelope and I try to put my thumb over the name when we’re counting.”

A love for children

Sally said about twice as many checks come from people who don’t attend the party or even live in the state. The checks range from $25 to $30,000.

“It breaks my heart that I can’t recognize people publicly,” she said. “I do write everyone a ‘thank you’ note.”

Captain Scott McNeil of the Laconia Corps said the money goes into the operating budget and to support children’s programming, rent and utility assistance, a soup kitchen, and “traditional Salvation Army outreach.” The corps also operates a 40–bed shelter for men, women, and families.

“It’s open 365 days a year and it just doesn’t stop,” McNeil said. “It’s almost always full and rarely is there an open bed. The community is certainly very thankful for what we do. We’re very thankful for what Sally and Jerry have done for us in the name of The Salvation Army.”

Captain Scott said Sally gets “very emotional” when they count the proceeds from her party.

“She’ll open up an envelope and she’ll hesitate and then get a tissue and break down and cry,” he said. “She’s just so thankful for the overwhelming generosity of the guests that she invites here. It’s really incredible.”

Sally said going to the corps and seeing where the money goes only “makes me feel we don’t do enough” to help, whether it’s her party or standing kettles.

“There are times I’m standing outside ringing the bell and I’m raising money for people who are entering the store,” she said. “It can get cold and I think about the children who don’t have anything. It’s not their fault. That keeps me going.”

Captain Scott’s wife, Captain Nora McNeil, called Sally “a force of nature” and praised Sally and Jerry for their compassion.

“What an amazing story that two people, who came together in the way that they did, who are as well–positioned as they are, would stop and think about helping their fellow man,” she said.

A quiet faith

Captain Scott said when he and his wife arrived in Laconia six years ago, Sally and Jerry were the first people to reach out and welcome them to their home.

“They’ve been open–armed and welcoming to us,” McNeil said. “We’ve felt very comfortable here from the start. They certainly didn’t have to do that, but they’re good people, not just for The Salvation Army, but for the community. They’re very community oriented. They just love living here, they love helping people, and they love being active in their community.”

Sally and Jerry attend a small Methodist church in town, but they prefer to keep their faith quiet. Still, the couple has seen miracles.

In 2014, Sally was diagnosed with lung cancer. She explained that smoking was allowed on airlines for 23 of her 25 years as a flight attendant and doctors believe she contracted cancer from second–hand smoke. She counted the proceeds from her party that year from her bed at the hospital.

Today, Sally is without half of one of her lungs, but has the energy and enthusiasm of someone half her age. Jerry, meanwhile, was able to find closure from his past.

The temperature was 34 degrees the night Jerry, who weighed almost 9 pounds at birth, was found wrapped in a blanket on a porch. The homeowner, Aimee Clohecy, was alerted by her barking dog that something was amiss. Clohecy rushed Jerry to Grady Memorial Hospital about an hour–and–a–half after he was born. The home next door at the time was occupied by Colonel Robert “Brig” Young of The Salvation Army.

Jerry, who was named “Baby X” by Atlanta’s newspapers at the time, was adopted six weeks later and grew up in Atlanta across the street from a Salvation Army facility. His parents, Wightman and Naomi Hopkins, never told him he was adopted. However, he would hear relatives use phrases such as “when you came to your parents” and “when they got you.”

“I heard those words a lot and being fairly observant to stuff like that, I always picked up on it,” he said.

When Jerry was around 20, a relative spilled everything about his past. Once his mother had reached an advanced age, Jerry and Sally flew to Atlanta to investigate.

Digging into the past

The couple found several newspaper articles written Jan. 8–10 in the Atlanta Journal and Atlanta Constitution. They wanted copies, but the Atlanta Public Library’s copy machine was broken. Sally and Jerry went to Georgia State College and learned that an elderly couple had been in to make copies of the same paper just days before, but the paperwork checking out the microfiche had been thrown away.

“I think this could have been my mother,” Jerry said.

Sally believes it might have been Jerry’s aunt, “but we don’t know and will never know.”

In 2007, Jerry joined Ancestry.com and 23andMe and had his DNA tested. Amazingly, two–and–a–half years ago, a second cousin popped up as a match and Jerry was able to make contact. He later found a first cousin through DNA testing, then tracked down a half–sister, and finally, his mother’s family.

Jerry learned that his birth mother, an overwhelmed single parent who already had four children and worked three jobs, had hidden her pregnancy with Jerry. He was also able to make contact with his siblings, who accepted him very well.

“It didn’t take long after that I found out my birth father’s name,” Jerry said. “It was the same way. I got a second cousin and bought DNA tests for people until we narrowed it down and I figured out who my father was.”

Jerry’s mother died in 2000 at age 92 and his father in 1997 at age 97. He later learned that he had another half–brother, who was left in a box outside a hospital by his mother.

Jerry said he never suffered any abandonment or psychological issues by being adopted.

“I didn’t know I was adopted,” he said. “It didn’t emotionally bother me at all. I was in a good family and they went to church regularly.

“It was the best thing she did to give me up for adoption. I got a scholarship to go to college and was a college graduate.”

Doing her part

After college, Jerry bought a small plane and learned to fly it, which led to a 35–year career at the former Eastern Air Lines and the now–defunct Trump Shuttle.

Like her husband, Sally prefers to let her fund–raising do the talking when asked about her faith. She would go to church wherever she was as a flight attendant and says her prayer life is strong.

“It’s a personal thing and how we choose to share that or what we chose to do, is personal,” Sally says. “I think everybody needs to take a turn helping other people. If we don’t help each other, we’re all going to sink. It’s just my turn to help.

“Some people preach. Some people run a shelter. They couldn’t run a shelter if I didn’t run a party. It’s a pie with a zillion little slices, and we all take a slice and take a turn and do what we’re best at doing. I do what I do best: I can entertain, I can invite people here, and I can browbeat them until they give me money. Sometimes it’s easier to just give me money than listen to me.”

by Robert Mitchell

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