Photo courtesy of Salvation Army Gadsden.
By Emma Kirkemier, News Editor
The Salvation Army is setting out its red kettles for the holiday season, but according to Gadsden corps officer Major Jim Edmonds, volunteer numbers still pale in comparison to pre-pandemic times.
“We just haven’t got our volunteers back since COVID hit,” Edmonds said.
He explained that despite much increased community need for the Salvation Army’s crisis services amid issues of homelessness, food insecurity and economic instability, the organization is sorely in need of volunteers to man its kettles.
“This is our biggest fundraiser of the year,” Edmonds said. “Not only does the funding that we get through the kettles help us with our toys and our food that we give out at Christmas time (and) the food baskets at Thanksgiving and Christmas; it helps us all year round.”
The primary purpose for the fundraiser is to support the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree Program, which answers Christmas wishes for “angels” and their families while providing food and other resources.
“This is the most that we’ve had people come to us saying that they need help from the Angel Tree (Program) that we do, from toys that we purchase from the kettle campaign or donations that people send in to us,” Edmonds said. “The more that we get to help man those kettles, the more volunteers; that’s just a greater benefit for people year-round.”
Donations made to the red kettles stretch further than holiday assistance. According to Edmonds, the money supports every program from the food pantry to character-building programs to the homeless shelter.
The Salvation Army shelter in Gadsden is the only men’s shelter in a five-county area believed to include Etowah, Cherokee, Marshall, DeKalb and St. Clair counties. The shelter has 30 beds total — 22 designated for male visitors and eight for female visitors.
According to the Gadsden Salvation Army post’s year-end report, last year the shelter housed 742 different persons, which combined for a total of 5,706 nights spent safely in a shelter bed or cot.
“There’s so many people that come to us,” Edmonds said. “We do help with utility assistance, and when we have the funding, we help with rent. We provide food both in meals and in groceries to try and [keep people from] needing other resources to survive. We really try to lift people up and sustain their lives.”
While the shelter’s Emergency Stay Program provides seven nights of shelter to those in crisis, some people may qualify to stay as long as 30. A few are even eligible for a five-month total stay while they get on their feet, Edmonds said.
The Salvation Army has sheltered more people over the last year than in recent history.
“We continue to grow, and this year there just was never a break,” Edmonds said. “It was full just about all the time.”
Edmonds outlined several of the programs offered to long-term shelter visitors or other clients that can include GED instruction, work skills instruction, rent assistance and counseling.
The shelter employs a full-time social worker who works tirelessly to line up community partnerships in an effort to provide various services. In addition to skill-based programs, the shelter teaches financial literacy and aims to partner with Gadsden Housing Authority to offer affordable housing options to clients ending their shelter stay.
The organization also provided 12,246 total meals for those in need in 2021, a number that is likely to be surpassed soon, just three months into the new fiscal year.
Edmonds and his wife Major Amy Edmonds serve together as co-corps officers at the helm of the Salvation Army in Gadsden.
“My wife and I have been Salvation Army officers for 40 years,” Edmonds said. “We’ve served all over the country, doing different things.”
Edmonds said at least one Major Edmonds, if not both, has been on site helping with relief following nearly every major disaster in the United States during their tenure, contributing to another facet of the Salvation Army mission.
The mission statement behind the organization is “doing the most good,” a sentiment derived from a quote by one of its earliest leaders. In 1919, Salvation Army Commander Evangeline Booth said, “There is no reward equal to that of doing the most good to the most people in the most need,” which remains at the heart of the Salvation Army’s — and the Edmonds’ — operations.
Edmonds expressed hope that local community members would continue to support them in this mission through volunteerism and funding alike.
“Hopefully they’ll again remember us, whether it’s a church group or just even a person or a family that might have a couple hours to come out and ring a bell for us,” he said. “That would be a tremendous help.”
According to Edmonds, many former bell ringers were senior citizens who stopped their volunteering due to health concerns. He said bell ringing is still “getting safer” as the community continues to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, and donations can be made to a “virtual kettle” online.
“(Gadsden is) a very generous community if [people] know that there’s a need,” Edmonds said. “That’s why we need to just share our story, because I believe this community will come to the need of each other if they know it.”