‘We Had to Help the Helpers’
by Robert Mitchell

‘We Had to Help the Helpers’

When it didn’t look like The Salvation Army in Washington, Pa., would meet its kettle goal this past Christmas, Captain Jason Imhoff made a bold prediction.

“It may not end up in the bucket, but God will provide what we need,” he told his wife, Captain Amber Imhoff.

What followed was a season full of faith and dependence on God that Amber called a “Christmas miracle” thanks to the Washington County Community Foundation.

The Imhoffs knew it would be a tough kettle season even before it began. One reason is they decided to employ a volunteer-only kettle staff during a time when finding volunteers was tough due to COVID-19. Some people who did volunteer got sick.

“People got quarantined or whatnot, so we didn’t have all of our kettle stands manned,” Amber explained. “People also aren’t shopping out in person as much, and when they are, they’re doing drive-up pickup. We had fewer volunteers and fewer shoppers.”

When people would ask her what The Salvation Army was going to do, she replied, “We’re going to keep doing what we do.”

Someone tossed a gold coin in one of the kettles worth almost $1,800, but the overall kettle campaign still came up $21,000 short of the $65,000 goal.

‘God will provide’

Then, the night before the church’s Christmas toy distribution, an apartment fire displaced 52 people in Washington. The Salvation Army spent some $30,000 housing 34 of the fire victims in a local hotel over the next several weeks.

“I kept saying, ‘God will provide. We’ll be OK.’ That was our attitude,” Amber said.

After an article appeared in the local newspaper highlighting the kettle shortfall, Amber got a call from Betsie Trew, president, and CEO of the Washington County Community Foundation. She asked several questions before calling back 10 minutes later to say the foundation was donating $50,000 to The Salvation Army—enough to cover both the kettle deficit and the housing of the fire victims.

“My response to her was, ‘You are the hands and feet to our prayer.’ That’s truly our sentiment,” Amber said. “I really can’t say enough. Our community has been wonderful. We were tremendously blessed. That’s the best way to put it. Our foundation is completely incredible. It’s not every day you get a call for a donation like that.

A faithful God

“God has certainly been faithful to us. It was a lot of long days and long nights, but God has been faithful to provide, and we are so thankful because it allows us to keep doing what we do every day of the year. The Washington County Community Foundation understands the importance of coming along nonprofits and helping them raise the funds so that they can just do what they do to help the community and that’s a huge blessing.”

Trew said the foundation, which distributes between $3 million and $4 million a year in grants, has a longstanding relationship with The Salvation Army and is aware of the services it provides, and the challenges forged by COVID-19.

When she read that the kettle campaign was lagging, she knew the foundation needed to help.

The foundation has increased its funding to health and human service organizations since COVID-19.

“We’re seeing that volunteerism has really been a challenge for a lot of human service organizations,” Trew said. “The volunteers are older, and they have been a little bit more cautious during the pandemic, so The Salvation Army had fewer kettles out. Then we’re also seeing less traffic because more people are buying their things online because of the pandemic. So, we knew we had to help the helpers.

Maintaining a strong Army

“We have to make sure that our Salvation Army is strong and that they are there when people are in need and when these things happen, like the fire. We needed to make sure that they were able to be that first responder-type of an organization. So, it was an easy decision for us to make them whole on their campaign and the additional money to help the fire victims.”

Amber said The Salvation Army in Washington is there all year long. The Army helped more than 1,600 children at Christmas and provides weekend food for 355 students a week during the school year. The church also provides monthly produce for 700 households; a shoe giveaway; a back-to-school program; youth programs, including archery and cooking classes; and normal social services, including rent and utility assistance.

Amber said through it all, God always provides the funding.

“As long as we’re focused on doing what God is calling us to do, we need to keep serving and we need to tell people our story,” she said. “We’re really good at serving. We’re not always good at advertising ourselves. I think when you tell people what we do, and you give them opportunities to serve alongside, they’ll see the importance and the value of it too.”

For more on The Salvation Army in Washington, PA., visit: