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Need up, funding down at Salvation Army in Niles

Published 7:48am Saturday, October 31, 2009

Organizations like the Salvation Army are currently struggling with increases in numbers of those in need of assistance. Whitney Glass was 15 when she first went to the Salvation Army for help. She and her husband Jeff no longer need the services regularly but they do turn to the Army for help when needed and give back to the organization regularly. (Daily Star photo/Jessica Sieff)
Organizations like the Salvation Army are currently struggling with increases in numbers of those in need of assistance. Whitney Glass was 15 when she first went to the Salvation Army for help. She and her husband Jeff no longer need the services regularly but they do turn to the Army for help when needed and give back to the organization regularly. (Daily Star photo/Jessica Sieff)

Editor’s Note: This is the first of a three-part series about local charities in need. The stories will be printed for three consecutive Saturdays

By JESSICA SIEFF

Niles Daily Star

Whitney Glass first discovered the services available through the Salvation Army more than 10 years ago when she stopped in to the organization with a friend.

Soon after, a new mom at age 15, she went back to the Army in need herself.

“My first initial feeling was kind of like, embarrassing … kind of ashamed that I needed to go for help,” she said.

It was a difficult time, Glass said. Being a minor, she was unable to get other means of aid, such as welfare. “But the Salvation Army was still there with food and stuff,” she said. “I mean, I was living off of friends and everything. …Without them I wouldn’t have had anything.”

A bag of groceries, a utility bill here or there, lunch when it’s needed, all of it “seems so little,” said Glass. “But it’s not. It’s so much bigger than that.”

When her children were young, she said there were times she needed help making sure they had everything they needed for school. Through the Salvation Army her kids were provided with supplies they’d need when they were in the classroom.

Nonprofits are familiar with what it means help those in need. Each day organizations like the Salvation Army, the United Way and other charitable groups large and small bring a sense of relief to those men, women and families of their respective communities who find themselves in the position of being unable to make their rent, pay their utilities or even provide groceries for themselves.

But now, nonprofits are becoming familiar with what it feels like to actually be in need.

Captains Tracy and Bill Walters of the Salvation Army in Niles say the situation, a combination of an increase in the number of people turning to the organization for help and insufficient funds to help them could be described as severe.

“It’s the most severe I’ve ever seen in the 14 years since we’ve been here,” Bill Walters said.

Since 2008, Tracy said the Niles Salvation Army alone has seen an increase of 839 individuals needing help – 130 of that number representing families.

The weekly installments of the Salvation Army’s “Lunch Bunch” soup kitchen program have grown to between 40 and sometimes 50 people in attendance, something the Walters say they had not seen before.

While the recession and growing number of unemployed have left more and more people in dire financial straits, the economy has also affected the donators themselves, leaving organization with less money, less donations and less resources to provide to those who need them.

The Salvation Army operates by way of its own fundraisers, a three-year Department of Human Services grant through the State of Michigan, a portion of funds made available through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and the United Way.

Still, the Salvation Army basically operates day to day, trying hard to avoid turning anyone away and helping whomever they can.

Being the recipient of such help left a lasting impression on Glass. Even when she was getting assistance from the organization, she was trying hard to give back to it with whatever she could. And she continues to do so. She said she takes clothes, toys or other items over to the Army regularly.

“If people don’t have the money, I want to be able to actually help them,” she said.

She makes sure what she brings in is going to her own community, something she finds imperative with so many businesses around the area shutting down and so many friends and neighbors falling on hard times.

Diagnosed with fibromyalgia and on disability, Glass who lives with her family on a farm, is unable to work and struggles just trying to take care of the family’s animals, including horses, ducks, geese, rabbits and chickens. Her husband, Jeff, was recently laid off from his job and has returned to school full time.

They work hard to make ends meet, but for many like the Glass family, sometimes there’s no other choice than to have those ends met by other means.

And there are many like the Glass family.

Without the necessary funds, those volunteers and staff at organizations like the Salvation Army have to face the difficulties of turning them away.

“That’s the hard time when we have to say no and who we have to say no to,” Bill said. “It happens every year.”

Glass’ experience with the Salvation Army has left her an advocate for both those who find themselves in need and the organization itself.

To those afraid of asking for help, Glass said, “swallow your ego, swallow your pride and just go. They don’t judge you there. They are really there to help.”

To those in a position to help, “local businesses, they really should think about helping them (the Salvation Army) if they can, if they’re not in a big struggle themselves,” Glass said. “They need to look within the community. If people don’t know what their community is in need of, pick up the phone. There’s really no excuse for people who can help, not to be helping.”

Back at the Salvation Army, the same place that encourages those who might be without to have a little faith, faith is what they’re running on.

Their building is suffering, with portable heaters in use after their aged boiler recently went out – leaving the upstairs too cold to use and keeping all functions sectioned off to the ground floor.

Their waiting area is busy, with more and more members of the community signing up for their Christmas program.

Their pantry serving the needs of countless, the minds of those staff delicately balancing between what is needed now, what will be needed soon and what is needed always.

“With the economy, we expect it to be pretty consistent,” Tracy said.

As is the dedication of those who keep the Salvation Army running day after day.

“It really is, on our end, more about the person,” Tracy said. “To listen to them, and sometimes to really let them cry on our shoulders.”

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