By MeLinda Schnyder
This time of year, it’s hard to miss the sight of the famous red kettles of The Salvation Army Wichita or the sound of the volunteers ringing their bells while manning the kettles. When most people think of The Salvation Army they think of those red kettles or the Angel Tree program, which collects donations of gifts and distributes them to children in need that would otherwise be left out on Christmas.
These efforts during the holidays provide great awareness of the organization, but it also causes some people to underestimate the scope of The Salvation Army.
“Christmas may be when we are the most visible, but services are provided 365 days a year,” said Major Joseph Wheeler, The Salvation Army Wichita City Commander. “We are making a difference every day. From the homeless women or families being housed in our Emergency Lodge to clients coming in without a coat and leaving with a coat to provide warmth to the family on the verge of having their electricity or gas turned off to the foster child who ends up being in a safe and caring environment. Everything we do gives us the opportunity to restore hope to the hopeless and bring transformation of a bad situation to a good one or a life understanding that God cares for them.”
The organization started in England as the East London Society in 1865 and evolved into The Salvation Army, arriving in Wichita in 1886. It is a Christian movement and an international charitable organization structured with a military system to assist staff being deployed to areas of need. Wheeler has been an officer with The Salvation Army for 41 years and came to Wichita in 2015 to serve in the top local role.
VIP: What is the mission of The Salvation Army Wichita?
JW: Vulnerable members of our community, who include the disabled, working poor, children and senior citizens, find themselves either at or below the poverty guidelines. Many are facing financial issues because of unforeseen circumstances. Our goal is to restore hope and transform humanity. We do this through our compassionate services and the sharing of the gospel or good news.
VIP: How does the Red Kettle Campaign support your mission?
JW: The Red Kettle Campaign is a significant financial resource allowing us to support needs in our community. With a goal of $1.4 million for our annual campaign, the red kettles must secure $400,000 of our total goal. The Red Kettle Campaign started in San Francisco over 100 years ago to bring public awareness to those in the community facing hunger and financial issues. Filling the red kettles assisted with The Salvation Army’s involvement in serving during the Christmas season, which should be merry and exciting but isn’t for those having financial difficulties. The message of Christmas is that God cares, and the work of The Salvation Army is to let the world know someone cares. It is hard to do more with less, which is why the Christmas Campaign is a critical time for The Salvation Army and our community.
VIP: How is the organization funded?
JW: The largest amount of support comes through the Christmas Campaign. Throughout the year we receive direct donations, hold special events such as our Back To School Giveaway, receive grants from corporations and foundations, and two of our programs receive some funding from our partnership with United Way of the Plains.
VIP: Tell us about your programs and services.
JW: We serve through a variety of program impacting all ages and cultures.
Disaster Services: The Salvation Army Emergency Disaster Service (EDS) provides relief to victims and emergency workers at disaster sites and major emergencies. Services include food, clothing, spiritual care and cleanup assistance. The EDS team operates an on-call emergency mobile canteen that is activated on an as-needed basis, usually in response to a request from local city/county emergency responders. The EDS team has assisted at train derailments, meth lab investigations, crime scene investigations, police actions, fire calls, child searches, DUI check points, tornados, floods, etc.
Emergency Social Services: The Emergency Social Services (ESS) program provides basic needs items (food, utility assistance, clothing, baby items, transportation assistance, winter clothing and blankets, medication, etc.) to low-income and poverty-level families and individuals on an emergency basis from three Corps locations in Sedgwick County. Our focus is to provide services after other community resources are exhausted.
Veterans Services: Our program assists low-income veterans and their families in obtaining and maintaining permanent stable housing.
Foster Care: At any time, there are 7,000 children in the State of Kansas in out-of-home placement. As a Child Placing Agency, The Salvation Army Wichita Foster Care program helps connect children with safe, loving, caring licensed and sponsored families.
Homeless Services: We offer emergency shelter for families and single women who are without other resources. Upon admission, the participant is assigned a case manager, who works with the family to develop a housing plan designed to address the barriers that caused them to become homeless.
Pathway of Hope: This is an amazing dedicated program at the heart of our mission: offering a pathway from crisis to sufficiency, increasing the client’s stability and degree of hope along the way. Pathway of Hope provides resources and connections, including networks of support, a sense of community, holistic programs and spiritual guidance.
VIP: What is The Salvation Army Wichita’s reach?
JW: We serve all of Sedgwick County. We’ve had a very successful 2017. To date this year, our staff and nearly 4,000 volunteers have helped 53,300 people with emergency assistance, served 66,400 meals, provided 25,700 nights of lodging, distributed 37,000 gifts to children and the elderly, served more than 2,000 people at disaster sites and made nearly 3,000 elderly visits in facilities.
VIP: How does the local Salvation Army fit into the state, regional and national organization?
JW: Worldwide serving in 128 countries, The Salvation Army is headed by the General, who directs the work of The Salvation Army from International Headquarters in London, England. For administrative purposes, the world is divided into geographical territories and commands, all accountable to the General. There is a National Headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia, that coordinates the efforts of four territories in the United States. The Central Territory covers the 11 central states of the United States of which Kansas is a part. Wichita is part of the Kansas-Western Missouri division.
VIP: What is the size of your organization?
JW: The Salvation Army Wichita City Command has 66 employees and more than 3,500 volunteers. There are 43 Advisory Board members and 12 Young Professional’s Board members.
VIP: How can readers support The Salvation Army of Wichita?
JW: Donate to the Red Kettle Campaign in person or at redkettlereason.org or redkettlegifts.org. Year-round, visit
centralusa.salvationarmy.org/wichita to make a donation, adopt an Angel, sponsor a family or volunteer.