By Glenna Turnbull

This article is from the November 2018 Issue of Forever Young

feature image november 2018

What do you think of when you hear a bell ringing?
For many of us, there are four things that come to mind: food, school, fire alarms and church/community. Perhaps that is why it’s so fitting that Salvation Army kettle drive volunteers get to ring bells as the money that gets donated goes to help in all of these areas.

As a child, it was always a thrill when my aunt would let me ring her beautiful brass bell to call everyone to the table for dinner. When you hear the Salvation Army bells ringing, know that one of the many uses your donations go towards is making sure those less fortunate get to have a dinner – and in one rare case, a table to eat at.

Capt. Darryl Bury, executive director and lead pastor of the Central Okanagan’s Salvation Army explains how, among the many roles their Rutland Road Community Life Centre has, it acts as a distribution hub thanks to the generosity of various local businesses. He tells the story of a large dining room table that had been too damaged for Costco to resell so they’d donated it to the centre; and of the very large family in need that it was gifted to. “When they received it, the mother cried,” he notes. “It meant that, for the very first time, they’d be able to sit and eat together as a family.”

For Pavlov’s dog, the sound of a bell means there’s food coming. For clients of the Community Life Centre, being able to access food comes courtesy of funds brought in from the bells rung at kettle drives and the generous donations of local farmers, businesses and individuals.

“We see hundreds of families each week that come in and get support here,” notes Darryl as we tour the giant food storage room in the centre. Working in conjunction with the local food banks, they are able to step in and help those who either haven’t met the food bank’s residency requirements or have already used up their allotted food for the month.

“We have a team of about 30 volunteers who are in here every week to put together these bundles,” he says of the numbered bags that line several shelves, sorted by how many people per household they’re designed to feed, “then we’re able to supplement produce and proteins…and workers can adjust the bags for special dietary requirements or allergies.”

Another bell is ringing. Years ago, schoolteachers would come outside and ring their bell when it was time for class. These days it’s all done on an automated system, however, bells still ring at every school and kids in school require basics such as backpacks for elementary age students and all supplies plus high price items such as scientific calculators for teens in high school. Those are just some of the items the Salvation Army’s caseworkers are able to gift to those in need, thanks to the twoonies and green, purple and blue bills you toss into their kettles.

But the caseworkers at the Community Life Centre do so much more than hand out vouchers for clothing, food and school supplies. They truly care about their clients and that makes a world of difference. Darryl tells the story of one family who didn’t arrive to pick up their children’s school backpacks. The caseworkers took the extra steps to follow up and quickly learned there had been a family crisis and was able to step in and help with other issues they were facing.

You’ll also find counsellors and other staff at the Community Life Centre who are able to help with everything from grief and trauma counselling to hosting life skills courses and creating programs that help deal with isolation. During a recent strategic planning meeting to discuss the biggest issues clients were facing, the obvious ones such as affordable housing and addiction were raised, but what Darryl notes is, “The underlying issues for a lot of those challenges was isolation and loneliness.”

As a result, one of the programs developed was Sally’s Table. “The premise is, we invite everyone to come and if they can, to bring something,” says Darryl. “Maybe you have a potato and someone else has a carrot, then we supplement that with what we have in the food bank and together we make a meal,” so that for at least one night a week, people who are otherwise on their own don’t have to be alone and out of that, connections can start to develop.

Fire bells are one’s we’ve heard far too often here in the Okanagan. For the past two summers we’ve been swamped with flooding followed by record breaking fires and here again, the Salvation Army has been able to step in to help, thanks to funds raised in their kettles. My tour of the centre includes a stop at the Sally Ann’s mobile commercial kitchen. “This is the vehicle we take out when there’s a fire or other emergency,” says Darryl. “We can do about a thousand meals a day off this truck. It’s always ready to go at a moment’s notice. As soon as it comes back in, we have a team that restocks it.”

The mobile kitchen truck can also tow along a trailer filled with tables and chairs so that firefighters and first responders can actually sit down to enjoy a meal as a much needed break from the stress of their duties before getting back into the thick of it again.

Bells are also synonymous with churches, which to me, signify community gatherings. One extremely popular gathering hosted each week by the Salvation Army is the Wednesday drop-in lunch for seniors. Darryl says, “Every Wednesday morning, we get anywhere from 60 to 80 seniors who come for table games and a soup and sandwich lunch along with other different programs. Often for seniors, that soup and sandwich is the best meal they get all week.”

This Christmas season, the goal is to raise $800,000 so that all of the Salvation Army’s existing programs (far too many to list here) can continue to run. Currently, the Central Okanagan is one of the few remaining places where their kettle campaign is still run entirely by volunteers. Over 5000 volunteer hours are needed so anyone wishing to step up to the kettle and ring the bell is encouraged to do so. Shifts can last as short as two hours. Ideally, Darryl would love to see some businesses challenge their competitors to see which company can raise the most.

Darryl says he is grateful to see the huge amount of community support the Salvation Army receives and notes three ways that people can help out:

1) Develop awareness to those around you and start forming relationships to help relieve those who are isolated.

2) Give back. Volunteer. Drop off your gently used items to non-profit thrift store such as the one’s operated by the Salvation Army.

3) Donate. Every cent raised here in the Okanagan stays in the Okanagan.

He sums it up by saying, “Because of the community support, through their financial and practical goods donations, and through volunteering, lives are being changed and it’s amazing to be part of that journey with people.”