This army is first to help

Published 9:02 am Monday, October 29, 2007

By By ERIKA PICKLES / Niles Daily Star
NILES – We read the signs, we see the bell ringers during the holidays, we even know where the drop-off box is for unwanted goods. But what a lot of us do not know is how much the Salvation Army actually does for our community.
"What is amazing to me is that, when I talk to people, they seem to only know us as the red bell ringers who stand outside of stores. The truth is, the Salvation Army is much more than that," Salvation Army Social Services Director Jan Nowak said.
The Salvation Army has been in Niles since 1886 – that's 121 years. During that time, the organization has helped hundreds of thousands of families in the area, as well as helping with disaster situations.
Currently, the Salvation Army is responsible for a number of different programs, which include a soup kitchen three days a week, a food pantry which stores food supplies for programs such as Thanksgiving and holiday meals and gift baskets. The organization also provides utility and rent assistance, back to school supplies for area children and a number of other programs.
"In our disaster services, we are generally there to help in whatever way we can. Usually it's providing food to the service workers and the people affected by the disaster," Captain Bill Walters said.
The Disaster Services team recently returned after helping the town of Nappanee, Ind., which was affected by the recent tornadoes.
Jim Mahler is a volunteer with the Salvation Army and a member of the Disaster Services Team. His experience in Nappanee is one he will never forget.
"The thing that makes me feel so special is the fact that, after the tornadoes hit, the Niles Salvation Army were the first people the residents of that town saw. We were there, ready to help and that is something they appreciated," Mahler said.
The majority of the time was spent making sure people were well fed. Mahler said they made over 750 meals and even brought sub sandwiches and bottled water to some 200 church members.
On Friday afternoon, Mahler, along with Pat Colburn, another volunteer, spent the day building shelves in a room at Michiana Christian Embassy. The room at the church has been used for storage by the Salvation Army.
"Before, we had to sort food items in boxes and line them up all along this storage room. Now, with these shelves, we will be able to organize everything. It will also help us see what we have and don't have," Mahler said.
With the holiday season right around the corner, Mahler is hoping to get the shelves finished soon.
"We are always taking donations, this time of year especially as we provide toys and meals for families," Walters said.
Donating to the Salvation Army is simple and can be done a few different ways.
Donations can be made through the United Way of Greater Niles at 683-1011 or by calling the Salvation Army at 684-2660. The address is 424 N. 15th St., Niles.
Items needed are boxed and canned foods, toys and clothing.
"We are not only here to help people physically and mentally, but spiritually as well," Walters added.