By Jeff Zdrale

When you hear the words, Salvation Army, what do you think of? If it’s a few people in maroon uniforms playing a tuba, tambourine and trumpet on a street corner, you are terribly out of date. This Christian ministry is one of the largest and most diverse nonprofit relief organizations in the world.

Working in more than 120 countries and using 175 different languages, the mission of the Salvation Army is the same —helping the poor, destitute and hungry. From its beginnings in 1865 England, and with the motto “soup, soap and salvation,” this international effort was named the fourth most popular charity in the United States by the “Chronicle of Philanthropy” in 1994.

I have driven past their building at the corner of Hwy. 47 and Midway Road many times and have never been aware of the many services the Salvation Army provides right here in the Fox Cities. That changed when I spoke with Allison Oravec, the volunteer coordinator for this region. She explained the wide scope of this organization in providing access to social services, housing, food security and to special seasonal activities for children.

“We have three locations,” Oravec explained. “There is the building in Menasha facing Hwy. 47, which houses the church and child care center. In Appleton, on North Street, is our Social Services Center and at the corner of College and Badger streets in Appleton, we converted the old fire station into 11 on-site apartments serving people with difficulties in finding permanent housing.”

I learned that they do not operate alone. Oravec told me that the Salvation Army coordinates and cooperates with many other housing, food relief and corporate groups in offering assistance in comprehensive, but not redundant, ways.

In speaking with Oravec, I needed to quickly scribble down my notes as she listed the many components of their operation.

In addition to providing emergency housing, the organization also helps with home retention, rental assistance and, for whole families, the Pathway of Hope program.

“Child care is a major effort,” she said. “Focusing on children is so important, especially around holiday time. We run Toys for Tots, Coats for Kids and our annual Adopt-a-Family campaign that is so well-known.”

As a volunteer at the St. Joseph Food Program, I wanted to know more about the Salvation Army’s efforts in this area.

“Our Emergency Food Pantry is open on all weekdays, as is our Noon Meal program. These are both located at our North Street site,” Oravec said.

I knew that the Salvation Army had a large staff and church members who all contribute to its work. That’s why I wondered about other volunteers. “It seems that you have everything covered, right Allison? Not much need for volunteers?”

She quickly corrected me and said that, in 2019, a total of 21,274 hours was clocked in by community volunteers as well as by people from other religious groups, nonprofit agencies and area corporations.

That same year, 22 volunteers of Retired & Senior Volunteer 55+ Program, which is sponsored by Volunteer Fox Cities, served more than 24,000 hours helping The Salvation Army-Fox Cities in a variety of roles, including interviewing clients, serving meals, sorting donations, driving the food pantry truck, distributing gifts, ringing bells and assisting at special events.

According to Oravec, “We are always looking for volunteers and, even during the pandemic, the needs are still there.”

Oravec described Community Days. During three consecutive days each month, community groups of all types are invited to send teams to help with special projects. People are always needed for Noon Meals and the Food Pantry. The day care programs may also use volunteers. “And last, but not least,” Allison concluded, “we have our bell ringers and counter kettles at small business sites.”

Knowing that the pandemic has affected so many service groups, I wanted to know how the Salvation Army has responded.

“Yes, we definitely will have fewer volunteers ringing bells this season (from Nov 13 until Christmas Eve) but we are still planning to add two sites, at Macy’s and Fleet Farm, for a total of 45. The need for good volunteers is always there.”

People interested in getting involved should contact Allison Oravec at allison.oravec@usc.salvationarmy.org or 920-955-1230 or visit www.safoxcities.org. There is an application and interview process that can result in specific ongoing roles being assigned or placement in a cadre of people who can be called upon when needed.

Their 2019 annual report noted that 3,008 volunteers gave their time and talent that year — quite a remarkable number. But Allison reminded me that, “We want to top it in 2020, so tell everyone to give me a call!”

Editor’s note: Jeff Zdrale is a member of the Retired & Senior Volunteer 55+ Program and the RSVP Community Council.