Physical, emotional hope provided to west-side residents by The Salvation Army

Story and photos by TOM BETAR

In more than 37 years working for The Salvation Army, a small girl hugging and loving a simple doll at Christmas is still one of the most memorable images for Major Richard Greene.

The Salvation Army, 438 S. 900 West, provides west-side residents with food, clothing, toys and perhaps most importantly, hope.

With the holidays fast approaching and the temperature taking a nosedive, service and charity of all kinds begin to be in higher demand. The Salvation Army Salt Lake City Corps, or simply The Salvation Army, is a religious-oriented nonprofit organization that aims to help needy families and children with everything from food and clothing to toys and spiritual support. The organization, located at 438 S. 900 West, does substantial work for neighborhoods on the west side of Salt Lake City, such as Rose Park and Glendale.

The west side roughly extends from 21st South up to the Davis County line and from Interstate 15 west to the railroad tracks near Redwood road before the industrial section begins. This area historically harbors much diversity and has accrued some negative stereotypes over the years, such as being a poor or undereducated, working-class area. These factors make the west side a focal point for many nonprofit and other charitable organizations that want to help these families and their children lead happier and more productive lives.

Even small items such as Christmas dolls can make a big difference for children of needy families.

Greene, the Salt Lake Basin coordinator, facilitates all the work of The Salvation Army north of Provo up to the northern Utah and Idaho border by handling much of the business aspects of the organization and coordinating finances and programs. He is looking at retirement in a few years, but his long tenure with the organization has left him with some lasting memories. In addition to seeing a small child become so elated over a Christmas doll, Greene mentioned a few other noteworthy experiences in his career in an email interview: “Seeing a grown man go back to school and receive his GED (certificate) in part because of our encouragement and seeing individuals come to a new joy and peace in their lives as they accept Jesus and start to live a new free life with Him.”

In terms of service to west-side residents specifically in the Glendale and Rose Park areas, Greene said his organization provides many options. He said there is a food bank where families can get dry food and perishables once a month and also vouchers are provided so that the families can receive clothing from thrift stores. There is even a community garden that residents can weed, plant and harvest, with The Salvation Army providing the water.

The Salvation Army is a nonprofit organization, which means that it must exist for the public benefit and it is constrained in that earnings cannot be distributed to owners. All profit must be put back in circulation within the organization. Funds come mainly through donations, government grants, private donors and charitable programs such as the Red Kettle and the bell ringers. There are also programs such as Angel Tree and Toys 4 Tots that provide gifts and toys to children at Christmastime. Greene said thousands of children throughout Salt Lake City receive toys through these similar programs.

Although there may be preconceived notions about what the Salvation Army is all about, Greene said these are not always accurate.

“Most people think of the Salvation Army as a thrift store or the Christmas bell ringers,” Greene said. “We are in fact a church that preaches Jesus Christ as the savior of the world. We serve the public because we know that is what Jesus would have us do, (but) we provide service to anyone without a need for a commitment or lifestyle change.”

Matthew Nish, 32, is the family services manager for The Salvation Army  and has been working there since 2008.

Nish said The Salvation Army is more than 120 years old and was originated in England by a Methodist preacher who started a church called the Christian Mission that was later renamed The Salvation Army. He said the organization then moved to Canada and eventually the United States.

“One of their first mottoes was soup, soap, and salvation,” Nish said. “They would walk down the street singing songs and playing music and they received a lot of persecution at first, but from then to now the Salvation Army has become a worldwide organization and our mission statement is to preach the gospel in the name of Jesus.”

The Salvation Army receives boxes of food and other necessities that are delivered to and collected by struggling residents.

The family services branch works to provide services such as emergency food boxes, clothing vouchers, spiritual support, counseling and referrals to residents. Nish said there have been some changes due to the economy. Most aspects of the drug treatment program, as well as space for the community dining hall, have been dropped due to lack of funding. However, The Salvation Army is now working on a mobile operation to take food to low-income housing units.

In order to be eligible for all these services, certain criteria must be met. The resident must have photo identification for all adults in the household, as well as identification for children. The resident must also have proof of address and income.

Nish said there are some unique aspects to working on the west side, but the goal is to try to help any and all residents.

“This is a tougher part of town and it’s largely Hispanic,” Nish said. “There are some different variables here. But it’s cool to see that since we’ve been over here the past two years we’ve been able to see God move and more people coming to our church. There is a lot of versatility here but all individuals and their families need help so we’re here to do that.”

Nish knows firsthand the powerful changes that The Salvation Army can create.  His first association with the organization was through the drug treatment program in 2007.

“I came empty handed and I didn’t have anything really,” Nish said. “They gave me hope, they gave me food, they gave me somewhere to stay, they gave me some friends and they also introduced me to my savior, Jesus. It’s through that venue of the drug treatment program that I got my life back.”

Nish is now more than four years sober and since becoming employed by The Salvation Army, he works to help others in the way he was helped years ago.

“It’s been a life-changing experience,” Nish said. “I used to wander around aimlessly in life and now I have direction. I have love for my fellow man and I have love for God and I have love for myself. Call me a rehabilitated man.”

Call The Salvation Army the catalyst.