'Not just bell ringers at Christmastime'
It's often the first sign of Christmas. That familiar sound of ringing and the sight of the bright red kettle at the doorway of area stores. It's the time of year when everyone knows what the Salvation Army (SA) is all about. Or do they? "We're not just bell ringers at Christmastime," says Corps Administrator Sgt. Les Ashby, "It is extremely important that our community understands two things - that we are here to serve 365 days a year and that we need their help to be as effective as possible." So what does the Salvation Army do for the rest of the year? And what happens to all those coins and bills that are stuffed into the kettles every Christmas season? Especially during the holidays, the most obvious service provided by the local SA chapter is the organization's annual toys for kids program. Called Angel Tree in Cleveland County and Christmas Cheer in Rutherford County, the program provides toys, clothes and other presents for children up to age 12 whose families apply for assistance. More than 750 kids in Cleveland and Rutherford counties were served this year, with the distribution taking place on Dec. 17 and 19, 2019. "The donations provided through the angel tree program help us to provide a more joyful Christmas morning for local children," says Ashby. But while the Angel Tree ministry is important, it is equally important to know that the small local SA office helps people throughout Cleveland and Rutherford counties with the tangible emergencies of life - preventing eviction, utility cutoffs, empty pantries and bare closets - every day of the year. "The money raised in the Red Kettles creates a year of hope for families and individuals in need," says Sgt. Ashby. "Pocket change opens doors for at-risk youth, provides food for empty tables, and helps families stay warm and safe in their homes. During the holiday season and throughout the year, every cent we raise helps us turn the hope of those we serve into reality." The area served by the local Army office has a total population of around 168,000, and ranks in Tier 2 on the Department of Commerce prosperity scale. While this means that these counties are not among the very poorest, it still shows that they are continuing to struggle in economic development after the near total demise of textiles during the past 30 years. Cleveland and Rutherford counties also have their fair share - some say more - of drug issues, homelessness and domestic violence. The Salvation Army strives to help people rise above these situations by providing assistance in a number of areas, including rent, utility bills, food, clothing and prescription medication. Each category of assistance requires applicants to fill out a brief form, which includes information about the applicant's household members, dollar amounts of income and expenses for the past 30 days, and a statement about what led to the crisis. Donations to the SA are welcomed throughout the year, according to Ashby. "We can't do what we do without support from the community," he says. "You are the hands behind the red shield; we're on the front lines every day. I promise we will serve this community to the best of our ability throughout the year." To donate or for more information about the local Salvation Army, search for "Salvation Army Shelby NC" on Facebook, visit www.salvationarmycarolinas.org or call 704-482-0375.