Magazine Features

Christmas a time for giving


by Robert Mitchell and Hugo Bravo
photography provided by Red Shield Toolkit

Adopted family gives thanks

Last year in Carlisle, Pa., a family’s Christmas looked bleak. So the parents requested assistance from The Salvation Army for themselves and two boys.

The father had been laid off. His unemployment compensation was still pending. The mother worked a part–time job to help support the family.

“They knew it would be difficult to provide gifts,” said Trinette Ream, the Army’s social services director in Carlisle.

Eventually, the family was selected for the Adopt–A–Family Program. A local businessperson shopped for clothes and toys for the children and purchased a gift card for their Christmas meal.

Ream said the Army later received the following thank you note from the mom:

“Words cannot express what you did for our family. We were truly afraid of having to ruin our children’s imagination of Santa. This year was one of the most stressful years for us. I cannot thank you enough for caring about complete strangers. Last year, I lost my mother and my stepfather six days before Christmas. I can only imagine the smiles you brought to them in Heaven. I plan to use the tree you gave us as a memorial for them. God Bless.”

Giving up for others

Tosha West, a client from Carlisle, Pa., shares her Christmas testimony.

“In June of 2014, I switched jobs. My new position required a physical.

Three days before I began work, I received a phone call from the doctor. He said I had leukemia. I felt lost. What was I to do? As a single mother of three children, I was frightened by my upcoming health challenge. I wondered how I would continue to support my family. I had no short–term disability or health insurance. It was a rough time for us.

By the time Christmas came around, I was clueless as to how I would provide Christmas for my children. I reached out to The Salvation Army for assistance and they adopted my family. I couldn’t have been more thankful.

My kids now had gifts under the tree. They were as happy as can be on Christmas morning!

I am forever grateful to The Salvation Army for providing gifts and Christmas dinner to us. My leukemia has been in remission since April 24, 2015.

I am hopeful my life will soon be back to normal. I would like nothing more than to help The Salvation Army in any way I can. It helped my family when we were in need.”

Kentucky family ‘pays it forward’

As a single mother, Angie Tillman works hard to support her family, including her 5th–grade daughter Kendyl and her elderly grandmother.

christmasatimeforgiving_3The family is often able to make ends meet, but when work becomes scarce, Tillman turns to The Salvation Army’s Central Kentucky Area Services for help. She is currently looking for full–time employment while volunteering at the Salvation Army’s Jessamine County Service Center. She’s paying forward to people who need the help she has received.

Kendyl also has a heart for serving others. A few years ago, she asked her elementary school principal for permission to organize a food drive. Kendyl carefully followed the school’s procedures and ultimately presented her idea to the local school board. In the end, she and her classmates gathered 10 large boxes worth of donated food.

This past Christmas, Kendyl again put her kind heart and organizational skills to work. She organized a toy drive to benefit The Salvation Army’s Angel Tree Program.

Kendyl isn’t sure what she wants to be when she grows up, but there’s one thing she knows for sure—she wants to continue helping others and making a difference for her community, just like her mom.

—by Melissa Childs, The Salvation Army in Lexington, Ky. 

A new home on Christmas

My mother tried to steady herself as she penned a short note.

She sealed it, put it in my hand, and said, “Take this to your father.” But I was a curious 12–year–old. On my way to his house, I stopped and opened it.

The note simply read:

I’ve had the kids long enough. Now, it’s your turn.

My mother, who struggled with alcoholism, was already separated from my father. When I read the note, I realized she also no longer wanted to be a single parent of her four children.

Soon, my siblings and I arrived at my father’s doorstep. We were to live with him, his girlfriend, and her seven kids.

At first, we were happy to play with so many fun kids. But I knew we couldn’t stay for long. There simply wasn’t enough room.  I remember bargaining with my father, “You work, and we’ll cook and clean, but please—just keep us together.”

Keep us together was the one thing my father did not do.

He called his mother and sister. On Christmas day 1974, they divided us. My father sent us to stay with aunts, uncles, and grandparents. My two brothers went to an orphanage.

I remember putting all of my belongings in a few grocery bags and loading them in the back of a station wagon.

As I contemplated my sad story, I felt broken. A married couple falls out of love; their children lose their parents; and then, the children lose each other.

How do you fix someone who felt as broken as I did? The answer is love.

I moved in with an aunt and uncle who were Salvation Army officers. Over time, I went from not wanting to be loved, because I had seen firsthand how it could hurt you, to saying “yes” to their love, and to the love of God.

Arriving at the home of my aunt and uncle was the work of God the redeemer. On Christmas day, at the most difficult time in my life, He led me to people who would show me the best kind of love—the love of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

—by Major Joyce Hartshorn

Bringing joy to 6,000 families 

christmasatimeforgiving_2The Salvation Army in Central Ohio delivers help and hope at Christmas through its Christmas Assistance Program, which is the largest distribution operation of its kind in the region.

Each Christmas, nearly 6,000 families receive new toys and all the fixings for a meal.

More than 1,800 volunteers run the toyshop and food distribution lines. They toil behind the scenes to ensure families have a festive holiday.

Last January, The Salvation Army received a “thank you” card from a woman named Frances. She described how her family had suffered through an eventful year. Someone had stolen her car, and without it, she lost her job due to a lack of transportation. As a result, her family spent several nights in a homeless shelter.

Having Christmas gifts and even food seemed impossible.

Then a caseworker told Frances about The Salvation Army’s Christmas program.

“She was able to pick toys for her children. She also received a food box with a delicious meal to share with her family on Christmas day,” said Kelli Trinoskey, community and public relations director for The Salvation Army in Central Ohio.

Frances thanked The Salvation Army. “We experienced a miracle at Christmas time. What these kind people did for my family and for many other people is something special. It means a great deal to us. Thank you so much.”

This year’s Christmas Cheer program runs from Dec. 16–22 at the Ohio State Fairgrounds.

“We are busy organizing toy drives, scheduling volunteers, and securing corporate donations to ensure this year’s holiday is merry and bright for the families in need whom we continue to serve,” Trinoskey said.

From crying to rejoicing

In October 2015, I walked into the Salvation Army’s Newport, Ky., Corps seeking food for my grandchildren. My car’s gas tank was empty. My eyes were overflowing with tears.

Captain Misty Simco invited me into her office, gave me food for Thanksgiving and Christmas, and helped me get gas for my car. She then asked if I would be interested in volunteering a few days a week during the Christmas season. I immediately said, “Yes.”

I volunteered a few days a week. Captain Misty got me on an adopt–a–family list. I was so excited because my grandchildren would have something for Christmas. I was waiting on Supplemental Security Income (SSI) from Social Security, so being a part of this program was such a blessing for me.

Then two weeks before Christmas, I got a call. My adopted family had backed out of the program. My heart was broken. Captain Misty said, “You’re a lot of help to us. I know God will see you through this because our God is good.”

A few days later, I found a pile of wrapped presents on my desk. They were for my grandchildren and me. My heart was overwhelmed with joy. Captains Daniel and Misty Simco were truly a blessing to us. I thank the good Lord for them every day.

Since then, my life has turned around. I now have full custody of two grandchildren. Before Christmas, the third one will permanently be mine. In April this year, my SSI came through and I was hired to work part time at The Salvation Army.

The Army helped me find safe housing for my new inherited family. I have been truly blessed.

Last year one sad and dreary day, God led me to The Salvation Army. Every day in prayer, I thank Him and Captains Dan and Misty Simco. — by Candy Smith

naturalalliance_ins‘Natural Alliance’

The Salvation Army and Lions Club International’s Corning, N.Y., chapter have what Club President Bob Thompson calls a “natural alliance.”

The club’s logo, “We Serve,” and a popular Salvation Army motto, “Others,” are both displayed at the club for all to see.

The community’s love and respect for the Army comes from its compassionate response to a flood that overwhelmed the area in 1972.

Many club members remember the event and go out of their way to raise money each year for The Salvation Army through its Charity Christmas Auction. This year’s auction will take place Dec. 15 at the Radisson Hotel.

“The Lions Club is very generous to us in Corning,” says Patience Thai, donor relations director for the Army’s Empire State Division.

Each year, club members stand kettles, and later hold the auction. How the tradition started in the early 1980s is “the stuff of legend.”

Taking action

One year, George Kapral, a 44–year member of the club, stood kettles. However, he was a bit disappointed after counting the money.

“The kettle only had a couple hundred dollars in it,” Kapral remembers. “I thought, there’s not enough money in that pot. So I reached in my pocket and pulled out a bill and said, ‘Let’s see what we can do to match this.’ ”

Dr. Edward Cordes, a retired optometrist and 40–year member of the club, recalled a few more salient details.

“We were disappointed by the amount just from the kettle donations,” Cordes said. “George said, ‘That’s not good enough. We need to do better than this. I’ve got five dollars, if anyone will match it.’ That led to an evening of people matching money back and forth. We ended up raising another couple hundred dollars.

“It became an annual tradition.”

The next year, Kapral said, club members brought gifts to auction and he became the auctioneer.

A fun night

“Sometimes the gifts were wrapped and were nice things. Other times they were gag gifts,” Kapral said. “All the money would go to The Salvation Army.”

Cordes said the auction has raised as much as $8,000, but it usually brings in about $6,000 to $7,000 annually.

“It kept getting bigger and bigger,” Kapral said. “It was something the club really loved because of the fun we had with it.”

Captains Francisco and Wanda Rivera, the corps officers in Corning, said the money raised at the auction goes to support a food pantry, soup kitchen, a Kid’s Café after–school program, a summer day camp, and for utility and emergency assistance.

The Riveras, who have been in Corning since last year, are also members of the Lions Club.

“That’s the best club I’ve ever seen,” said Captain Wanda. “They support and love The Salvation Army.”

Long memories

Kapral said when the 1972 flood knocked out power to the area, finding something to eat was difficult. The Salvation Army became the place to go for Kapral and his then 12–year–old son.

“The Army would put out a hot meal,” Kapral said. “They didn’t care how dirty or muddy we were, they would just feed us. That stuck in our minds.

“I’ve always thought a lot of The Salvation Army. Anytime there’s a problem anywhere, they bring their trucks and serve coffee and donuts. I just said, ‘It’s time we do something for [the Army].’ The auction was one of the ideas—and it stuck.”

Cordes and his wife, Gail, didn’t move to Corning until 1977, but they heard about The Salvation Army’s flood outreach.

“The Salvation Army helped the people of Corning. They inspired the rest of us who were not directly involved to have the same motivation to reach other people in need,” Cordes said.

Compassionate hearts

Cordes said club members come from “various professions,” but all have the same outlook when it comes to serving organizations such as the Army.

“We all have a strong sense we’re pretty lucky. There are other people in the world not as fortunate as we,” Cordes said. “As responsible members of the community, we have an obligation to give back.

“That’s why Lions do what we do.”

Each year, the club buys turkeys at Thanksgiving and helps The Salvation Army distribute them.

“The Army does a great job helping everybody. That’s what we’re about too,” said Thompson, the current club president. “It’s a natural alliance.”

by Robert Mitchell

alifeofvisionandserviceA Life of Vision and Service

Two years ago, Dr. Edward Cordes retired after 40 years as an optometrist in Corning, N.Y.

He also spent his life giving back to others through Lions Club International, where he served on its international board of directors. He also established a foundation for vision screenings called Lions KidsSight USA.

A medic in Vietnam, Cordes saw his life change forever when he helped deliver medical supplies to rural villages.

“We were the only health care these people had,” he said. “We learned pretty quickly the rest of the world is not like middle class America where I grew up. That was my motivation for being in the Lions Club my whole career.”

Cordes and his wife, Gail, have gone on five mission trips to developing nations to provide vision care.

In 2014, the international president of Lions Club International asked Cordes to streamline several vision screening programs. Since he founded Lions KidSight USA, vision screenings have jumped from 500,000 to 1.5 million around the country. KidSight USA will soon have nonprofit status.

“My motivation is to help kids avoid lazy eye or amblyopia and to continue my professional interest and my professional work to help people and stay active at a high level,” Cordes said.

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