This article is from the December 2016 Issue of Forever Young

 FYng December 2016 FeatureImage

By Glenna Turnbull

“Not those bell ringers again,” said the disgruntled woman in the fur coat who pushed past me on the way out of the store, her arms laden with plastic bags filled full of bargains.

“Yes,” I said to her, “isn’t it wonderful what they do?”

If she’d stopped for more than the moment it took to sneer at me, I would have explained:

The Salvation Army Kettle Fund has become synonymous with Christmas and each day, as volunteers man the kettles and, yes, ring their bells where permitted, they help to make our community a much brighter place for those who are struggling.

It’s a sad statistic that one in every eight households struggle to put food on the table and that 90,000 Canadians will find themselves at the door of their local food bank for the first time this month, but such is the case. (Ring ring...)

One of the volunteers at the Kelowna Salvation Army knows first-hand what it’s like to be in need and require their services and why those ringing bells are so important. When Alicia Cook moved to Kelowna in September 2015 with her daughter, she came on the premise of starting a new life for them both – a life that included her returning to school. As a single mom, struggling to make ends meet while awaiting her student loan to arrive, she found herself at the doors of the Salvation Army Community Life Centre where she met one of their Case Workers, Jamie Johnstone. “Jamie was amazing,” said Alicia, “she was a breath of fresh air. She was safe to talk to when I had no one else.”

Like many before her, the initial shame Alicia felt at having to ask for help manifested itself into tears but before long, with Jamie’s help, tears were turned into smiles. Food, clothing and a brand new backpack for her daughter to start school with were some of the things she left that first appointment with, along with the knowledge that there are good people in this world, people who care – care enough to listen to that ringing bell and drop in a donation.

Through the Christmas Toy and Food program (now called Sharing Christmas), Alicia got to experience first-hand the dignified process that the Empty Stocking Fund supports in Kelowna. “Before, I really didn’t know what the Salvation Army was all about,” she said.

Two years ago, The Salvation Army restructured its toy distribution and opened the Toy Depot. All the toys collected from the community are arranged according to age and with the help of the Elves who volunteer, parents can select the toy most appropriate for their child.

Food distribution has also changed over the years. Gone are the old fashioned hampers that were filled with good intention but may have contained foods that didn’t fit restricted diets. In their place, the Salvation Army introduced Food Cards that can be used to buy groceries for Christmas dinner.

For Alicia and her daughter, the kindness received from the Salvation Army that Christmas of 2015 was overwhelming. In a letter she wrote them afterwards, she said, “Without you...we really would have had nothing. You provided everything we needed in order to really have a meaningful holiday. Food, gifts, stocking stuffers – it was just amazing!”

Fast forward a few months later: Christmas was over and the Kelowna Salvation Army Community Life Centre received news they’d be hosting a practicum student of the Social Service Worker program. It was Alicia!

“I got to help people that were in my position,” said Alicia.

And while the money is collected primarily during the Kettle Fund at Christmas time, it is what supports the organization throughout the year. This past year in Kelowna alone, 84 children were able to attend summer camp, after school programs and youth sports; 160 children were gifted through the annual Back Pack Program with basic back to school needs; and 5098 families received food and household assistance – all because you dropped money into the big red Kettle.

Alicia’s daughter is one of the kids who got to go to summer camp for the first time. “At first she was nervous about it, but then, when she went, she had the time of her life making new friends. This was something I never could have afforded to do as a single mom going to school.”

Now that she’s graduated with her diploma in Social Work, Alicia has come back to volunteer at the Community Life Centre. Graced with not only her education but the first-hand knowledge of what it feels like to be on the other side, she’s become a huge asset to the Salvation Army.

And while Christmas time is their primary fundraising time, the work they do extends through the year with programs for seniors, emergency disaster support and so much more. So next time you hear those joyous kettle bells ringing, remember all the good that comes from them and give from the heart.