Most people only think of the men and women ringing those bells during the holiday season when they think of the Salvation Army, but it’s much more than that.
Currently, the Salvation of Army is fighting the war on hunger.
Brad Byrd: Welcome to In-Depth. The image most people have of the Salvation Army is the men and women ringing those bells during the holidays. But the mission of the Salvation Army in Evansville goes beyond that. Currently, it’s on the front lines of the war on hunger.
Joining me tonight is Major Mark Turner of the Salvation Army of Evansville. Major Mark, thank you so for being here tonight with us. I always ask my guest what was the spark that directed you toward the Salvation Army? And a pretty young age I understand.
Mark Turner: Well, the Salvation Army was my church growing up. And so, since the time I was four years old, I was working with the Salvation Army. My dad was a fireman and they were collecting can goods and we were asked to come down to the gymnasium to pack food baskets, I don’t know how much a four-year-old could do, but I thought I was big time and I just thought how wonderful that we could connect our faith to helping people that are in need. And ever since then, I have been very involved in the Salvation Army, and I was a boy scout at the Salvation Army, and played in the Salvation Army band, I just fell in the love with the Salvation Army.
Brad Byrd: And you’ve seen, as you say, the people who have been touched by the good the Salvation Army does, the challenge though in this day and age, with this war on hunger, the challenge of getting people involved, young people, people of all ages and generations. How does that affect your abilities to make this work?
Mark Turner: Well, we need all the generations. We are very grateful, we’ve got honor societies from different high schools that help, but at Thanksgiving, to put that Thanksgiving dinner on, and several of the other things we do, we have registered a ring during the Christmas kettle season and people can look and put their zipcode in registering.com and see what kettle sights are available. We have youth groups, different civic groups, the sheriff’s office is always great at ringing for us and others, so we need all those generations to step up
Brad Byrd: You know, it’s a long time term, called the Soup Kitchen, and it dates back to, I guess, well before the Depression, but here in Evansville, this is a situation that a lot people don’t, perhaps, like to talk about, or may be totally unaware of it, but the number of people that show up at that Soup Kitchen every day, tell me about that.
Mark Turner: Well, every day Monday through Friday, at lunch from 11:30 to 1 o’clock, we serve between 200 and 300 people. The 300 is closer in the summer time. Kids are out of school and parents don’t have the resources to feed their children and the whole family may come in. But during the rest of the year, we have senior citizens, we have the working poor…
Brad Byrd: The working poor, that really intrigued me, these are people trying to work to make ends meet?
Mark Turner: Yea, guys come in, in old trucks, and may be working just over minimum wage, trying to make it the best way they can. They don’t have the resources, so they’ll stop at the Salvation Army and have a good hot lunch.
Brad Byrd: So, about, was it 38,000 people, you told me?
Mark Turner: Just a little over 38,000 this past year.
Brad Byrd: Yea, that’s a lot of people. They just don’t appear out of thin air – it takes a lot of people volunteers, primarily, to keep this kitchen running.
Mark Turner: That’s correct, we have one full-time worker that does the cooking and everyone else is volunteer. The people who set the tables up, the people who serve the meals, the people that clean up, do the dishes, and so, we’re in constant need of volunteers. If there’s anyone out there that’s interested in giving a ring at the Salvation Army, we would love to interview them and talk to them, show them our program and the people that we’re serving. Your heart will go out to them and you’ll really want to do your best to serve them.
Brad Byrd: And is this problem getting worse? I mean, is it a problem that you’d take two steps forward, but you have to take one step back? How bad is that relatively speaking?
Mark Turner: well, our numbers are down slightly the last couple years, as unemployment rate, unemployment has gone down – we’ve seen our numbers go down thankfully, a little bit. But there’s always those people that are between jobs, we always have people that can’t keep a job for one reason or another, maybe mental illness or possibly an addiction, and then there’s the senior citizens that live on a small social security check and maybe their only hot meal of the day is to come over to the soup kitchen.
Brad Byrd: Tell me about the pathway of hope.
Mark Turner: Well, this is a program that the name is new to the Salvation Army in the last 10 or 11 years. But what we’re trying to do is not just give out the fish but teach them how to fish. There’s families that come in and they just don’t know how, they were raised in the cycle of poverty, and welfare. They need to know what educational opportunities are available. Maybe they’re lacking transportation, we can help them with transportation, maybe it’s just networking them in certain circles. Whatever it takes, whatever obstacles that are in their way, break those obstacles down, so they can get work and once they’re in work, just showing up to work on time, working with that employer, training that employer and employee together to work on time, is what we work on with them very hard on that Pathway of Hope program.
Brad Byrd: And April 5th is a very important date. There’s a very critical period coming up.
Mark Turner: Thank you for bringing that up, April 5th is our War on Hunger and we raise money at Christmas time, but as we go into summer months, it’s critical that we have money to purchase that food for the soup kitchen and for our food pantry. So, we’re grateful to all those volunteers that will sign up, but we’re in front of all the Schnuck’s in the Evansville area and in Newburgh. And Schnucks works very well with us on this program and we can use people that will pass out flyers that come in. Those businesses that will buy a skid food and so many pounds of meat, we need the community to come together to help us on this war on hunger.
Brad Byrd: and if we could get that phone number up on the screen. If you’re interested in volunteering, in any form for the Salvation Army, or if you want to learn more, this is the number right here: 812-425-1375. Major Mark thank you for joining us.
(This story was originally published on February 13, 2019)