Before there was a Salvation Army Ray & Joan Kroc Corps Community Center in Camden, N.J., George Berry remembers there was a local center in downtown Camden where families could visit to receive food and engage in activities.
“It was like the Kroc Center, only much smaller. We could play baseball and basketball there,” says George, who grew up in Camden. “My mother, who was a minister, also worked at the center. They had pantries, food giveaways, and a thrift store; we would always go help there.”
This local center was where Berry first developed his love for serving others. After running track in high school, he volunteered as a track coach. He enlisted in the military, and when he departed after 13 years, he still looked for more ways to help.
Dawn Garlic, volunteer services manager at the Camden Kroc Center and a former high school classmate of George, introduced him to The Salvation Army. She was helping plan their high school reunion and, at the same time, promoting the Kroc Center’s volunteer opportunities to members of their graduating class. George joined them and was soon attending the Kroc Center’s Mobile Food Pantry every Wednesday to help.
“We give out food to communities who have very little access to shop for themselves. By the time we have unloaded everything from the van, there’s already a line of people who are asking for food,” says George. “I see so much need, and I try to encourage them. While growing up, I didn’t have everything. So, being able to return the favor and help people make their day means a lot to me.”
George is also a member of the National Association of Buffalo Soldiers and Troopers Motorcycle Club, the world’s largest African American motorcycle club. Through George, the club has taken part in the Kroc Center’s community events, such as its annual Black History Month celebration.
“During Christmas, the Buffalo Soldiers have arrived to unload a tractor–trailer full of toys. They’ve volunteered their time to unbox and stock them on shelves for the Kroc’s Toy Shop,” says George. “It’s so cool to see the children’s faces light up when they learn that they’re going to walk out with a present.”
The Buffalo Soldiers also ring the bell for the Army outside stores during Red Kettle Campaign season. Ringing the bell, Berry says, is one way the Army’s mission aligns with the Buffalo Soldiers’ belief that one should always try to give back and do “good in the ’hood.”
“I never thought I would see someone personally take out a $50 or $100 bill, right on the spot, to give to the kettle. I hear people tell stories about how The Salvation Army has helped them in the past, and in turn, they want to pass it on to help the Kroc Center. Hearing that is very special,” he says.
“Think of the people who have the ways and means of taking their kids on a drive to a water park. There are families in Camden that don’t have the means to do that, but they can come here to the Kroc Center water park and enjoy a swim, get food, and more.” He remembers being among those children whose family couldn’t afford to give him everything they wanted, and so, that’s why he volunteers.
“The Kroc has been a blessing for Camden,” says George, “and helping The Salvation Army put a smile on someone’s face makes me feel good.”