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‘A Coat Just for Me’

Major Thomas Duperree

Major Thomas Duperree

“Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness and who seek the Lord: Look to the rock from which you were cut and to the quarry from which you were hewn.” —Isaiah 51:1.

Major Thomas Duperree, administrator of the Ray & Joan Kroc Corps Community Center in Dayton, Ohio, sees poverty every day. And when people come in for help, he sometimes remembers the impoverished life he lived as a child.

Duperree grew up in Punxsutawney, Pa., the eighth of nine children. His father died when he was 3, leaving his mother Jane to raise a family on a military pension.

His wardrobe consisted of hand–me–downs. And by the time they reached him, the items were well–worn.

“I knew poverty from an early age,” Duperree says. “I understood it. I understood what it was like to go to school and not look like the other kids and to be in tattered clothes.”

His family attended the Salvation Army corps in Punxsutawney. And Duperree remembers coming home after kindergarten one day to find Captain Sheila Kelly at his home. “We were coming into the winter months,” he remembers. Kelly took him to the local Jamesway department store to buy him a winter coat.

ACoatJustforMe_sm2“That had a profound impact on me,” Duperree remembers, “growing up in poverty, and then being given something brand new—just for me.

“That event was one of my earliest memories of The Salvation Army’s meaningful influence on my life. It drove me to a life of service.

“That day, my praise was for an organization and its servants who reached into my life. They met a practical need and demonstrated to me what servanthood and giving are about. I was one of the poor people. And after that, I dedicated my life to serving the poor.”

Duperree said his entire family attended the corps that they called “home.” By age 14, he knew God intended for him to be an officer.

Today, two of his brothers, Roger and Timothy, are also Salvation Army officers, both holding the rank of major.

‘Duperree says his heart beats for the poor “365 days a year.” On a rainy day, he’ll typically stop his car to give away an umbrella or money to someone in need.

“I don’t have to be in my Salvation Army uniform,” he says. “And it’s everywhere I see people in need. That lifestyle of serving and giving that I saw demonstrated has also become my lifestyle.

“When you grow up in poverty, it puts you in tune with people who are impoverished. I think God allowed me to grow up in poverty, in part, so that I could be able to relate to and be sensitive to poor people.

“We are an Army that serves the poor.”

by Robert Mitchell

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