Starting Monday, people across America will observe National Salvation Army Week through thousands of events and activities designed to raise awareness of The Salvation Army's work while also giving thanks to the millions who have supported the evangelical group's service to the American public.
And with the country's economic recovery still on shaky ground, local chapters of The Salvation Army will also be calling on the American public to step up with their giving to help keep the organization's community centers running and to help them do what they have done for over a century – give freely to all Americans, as President Dwight D. Eisenhower had noted nearly six decades ago.
"Among Americans, The Salvation Army has long been a symbol of wholehearted dedication to the cause of human brotherhood," Eisenhower said when he declared the first National Salvation Army Week in 1954.
"Their work has been a constant reminder to us all that each of us is neighbor and kin to all Americans," he added. "[G]iving freely of themselves, the men and women of The Salvation Army have won the respect of us all."
Each year, The Salvation Army assists around 30 million people through basic social services, disaster assistance, correctional services, and community centers, among others – a difficult task that in recent years has become even more difficult.
In the past couple of years, demand for the group's services has increased on several fronts while funding for them has decreased and costs to run them have increased. To ensure that resources are allocated to where they are most needed – in serving people in need – some Salvation Army branches have had to cut back administratively, cut back on travel budgets, and institute hiring freezes, among other actions to make every dollar count.
"We have always struggled keeping our food pantry stocked," reported Jeff Baldwin, public relations director for The Salvation Army Command Center for the Richmond, Va., area, "but it's never been this difficult."
From September 2008 through March 2010, Richmond Area Command's food pantry reportedly handled 2,873 cases – an increase of 20 percent over the same time frame from the previous year.
In addition to the food pantry, the Richmond center has continued to see an increased demand for its other social services programs, such as utility bill and rent/mortgage assistance.
In the last nineteen months, 2,445 individuals have received assistance with their utility bill (gas, oil or electric) – a 72 percent increase over the previous nineteen months.
Richmond Area Command has also seen a 116 percent increase in rent/mortgage assistance.
"We are noticing that families and individuals are being forced to make tough choices; deciding whether to pay that utility bill, rent or mortgage, or buying food to eat," reported Baldwin.
"We are doing all we can to meet the increased demand for our services, and we are confident that the Richmond community will step up and support The Salvation Army like never before, so that we can serve those individuals that are facing financial hardships for the first time," he added.
Last year, across the nation, The Salvation Army utilized the services of more than 3.4 million volunteers in serving 69 million meals, supplying 10 million lodgings and distributing 20 million items such as clothes and gifts.
Aside from being one of the world's largest providers of social aid, The Salvation Army is also a denomination that claims membership of more than a million worldwide, excluding the more than 4.5 million volunteers who work with the organization to serve tens of millions across at least 118 countries around the world.
The Salvation Army was established in 1865 in the poverty-stricken East End of London, England.