Playing ball to pay it forward

Published 9:17 am Thursday, July 23, 2009

Niles Daily Star

The mission of the Salvation Army to help those in need, one might say, is as American as well – apple pie. Or hot dogs. Or baseball.

And the Niles-Buchanan Salvation Army is banking on it.

Saturday the Salvation Army will host a very special softball game at Plym Park in Niles to raise awareness of the continuous need for donations to keep their food pantry stocked as they continue to help a growing number of area residents in need of assistance.

“It’s summer,” said Jan Nowak, social service director for the Niles-Buchanan Salvation Army. “Let’s grab a hot dog, let’s watch a game.”

The hope is spectators will also come out to help those in need. The admittance fee for the game is a minimum of one non perishable food item donation.

By “paying” to get in, the game will essentially pay it forward.
Taking to the diamond at Plym Park on Saturday at 1 p.m. will be “the Niles All-Stars, made up of community leaders and area law enforcement,” along with members of the Michiana Christian Embassy softball team and the Embassy’s own Pastor Jeffery Whittaker. The Niles All-Stars will face off with Bethel College women’s softball team, armed with a 40-3 record.

Salvation Army chapters across the country are reporting a growing need for food and assistance.

In Corning, New York, Rockford Ill., and on the other side of the state, officials with the Army have felt the effects of a struggling economy and a crippling workforce.

As more and more hardworking Americans lose their jobs and feel a tighter squeeze on their checkbooks, more are turning to their local Salvation Army for help.

Unfortunately, at the same time, fewer are finding themselves able to donate.

It was around this time last year that Niles’ Army was coming off a successful run of their annual postal worker’s food drive, which typically helps the organization get through the months leading up to the holidays.

According to Nowak, an estimated 40,000 pounds of food was collected and distributed to area food banks last year.

This year, Nowak said the yield from the postal worker’s food drive was down 25 percent, a significant drop for an organization where every donation counts.

This year that drop amounted to 9,900 pounds of food for the Niles-Buchanan Salvation Army, which is expected to stretch under a heavier need.

It didn’t help, Nowak said, that just before postal workers spread out across the area to collect donations, many residents were reeling from news that Tyler Refrigeration would be shutting its doors – putting 500 people out of work.

It’s news like that, news of a wavering market and growing unemployment rate can scare people enough to affect donations. Nowak said the organization’s weekly “Lunch Bunch” continues to grow, breaking records.

So the Salvation Army is hoping that a weekend of good, old fashioned fun will help people remember the mission and the meaning behind every canned good or nonperishable item.

The Salvation Army will be on hand grilling up hot dogs with all the trimmings and the game is being made possible in the spirit of donation, with the park grounds being donated by the city, time being donated by volunteers to pull off the event – even the hot dogs were donated for the game.

“This is just to provide Niles some fun, to show off this park and to keep people aware …  that people are hurting,” Nowak said. “We’re trying to do more with less. And we need help.”