This article is from the December 2017 Issue of Forever Young

When you think about The Salvation Army, what comes to mind? Sure, we know they are there to help those in need, but who exactly are those in “need”?

This past summer, thousands of people who have never been on welfare, never been short of groceries or needed a food hamper, found themselves being helped out by The Salvation Army due to the 2017 floods and fires.

The first stream of new arrivals began flowing through the Kelowna Salvation Army doors on May 5. “We partnered with the Emergency Social Support Services here in the Central Okanagan and opened our doors for those impacted by local flooding,” says Pastor Darryl Burry of the Kelowna branch of The Salvation Army, “so all the month of May and most of June, we were dealing with people impacted with flooding.”

Once the flooding receded towards the end of June, it was just over two weeks later when a whole new group of people found themselves at the doors of The Salvation Army as victims of what turned out to be the worst fire season in the history of B.C. “With the exception of an 18 day gap, we went straight through from May 5 to Aug 26,” notes Pastor Darryl.

“For the most part, when we partner with ESS, they come in and provide for those who cannot go home,” he says, “and our role is to help with emotional support and the immediate things they need. For instance, there were a number of families who had to evacuate very quickly and they fled without enough diapers or formula, so we are able to provide those immediate needs.”

But the biggest help the Salvation Army played over the summer to their new acquaintances was providing emotional support. “We’re able to provide that listening ear because there is a huge fear for them of wondering, will we ever be able to go home again,” notes the Pastor.

“Over the course of the summer, we had more than 3000 people – not just from our local area but from all over the province – come through our doors to register and we had the chance to walk alongside them.”

From the fire victims in Lake Country to those who watched their new condos on Lakeshore Road go up in flames, the shell-shocked faces that arrived at The Salvation Army were not the low income people we usually consider to be those most in need.

“There were also thousands of people who had to evacuate from the Caribou region and while the majority went to Prince George and Kamloops, for many who had friends or family here or were camping in the area, this became the location where they were set up with while evacuated,” says Darryl.

The funds raised each December through the Kettle Fund certainly work to help those we traditionally think of as in need, such as the 2400 people who received household assistance this year or the 1600+ meals they served up to the homeless at the Inn From the Cold shelter, but those funds also helped feed nutritious meals to first responders working on the fire lines.

“We were able to provide meals twice a day to personnel fighting the flames at the Phillpot fire and to emergency personnel,” Darryl notes, “which was usually over 100 people, twice a day.”

It took a team of volunteers working in the kitchen to prepare all those meals and another team of volunteers to use the Emergency Crisis Response Unit to go up and serve them at the staging area for the fire crew.

And then there were the meals served up at the reception centre. “We served 573 meals just here in Kelowna, as well as over 3000 drinks and almost 3000 snacks,” says Darryl, “with 3100 volunteer hours donated just at our reception centre.”

“There were a number of people who never thought they’d have to access our services here at The Salvation Army. They were thinking that we’re only here for the homeless or those struggling in poverty,” says Darryl.

This summer brought to light the fact that The Salvation Army is there to support everyone in need during times of crisis – to walk alongside them and provide emotional support.

“We have people who have been trained in emotional and spiritual support and we also reached out to some of the other pastors in the community to come alongside people and listen. Sometimes that’s the great thing you can do in a moment of crisis is to have someone just listen and let people know they’re not alone,” says Darryl, “to validate their fears as being real and to say, at the end of the day, we’re hear to journey through it with you.”

The annual kettle drive that is currently underway is the biggest fundraiser of the year for The Salvation Army. For those who would like to do even more than just contribute financially, they are always on the lookout for good volunteers – and not just to man the kettles in winter. This past summer, 267 volunteers were needed just to work the fire support centre alone. “We had over 2600 volunteers in 2017 serving over 16,000 volunteer hours,” Darryl says.

Anyone interested in becoming a volunteer is asked to contact Tamara at the Kelowna Salvation Army, where they can chat about what areas they might be interested in volunteering in. “There are lots areas people can get involved in for volunteer service,” notes Darryl. “For those who want to get involved in the EDS (emergency disaster services) side, we offer specialized training courses a couple of times a year in different fields.”

“When disasters do happen, we need to have a large pool of people trained so that we can call them in, whether at 2PM in the afternoon or 2AM. There were days we had to go 24/7 and we needed people at all hours of the day on site,” he says.

From fires and floods to food hampers, The Salvation Army’s reach is far and wide. Darryl sums it up best by saying, “Whether it’s a child needing some support going back to school or someone who has been displaced out of their home from a disaster, at the end of the day, The Salvation Army is here to help and provide love to everyonej1 in those times of need.”