Tag Archives: tree of lights

How does this make you feel?

I posed a question on our Facebook page about seeing the bell-ringers this time of year. There are several feelings that come about when you talk about Salvation Army bell-ringers–I’ve heard people say “Oh great, here they are again…” “STOP RINGING, that is so annoying” “Aww it makes me feel like Christmas is here!”… and on, and on. So I thought I would get some unedited Facebook commentary about how our dedicated volunteer army of fundraisers is being perceived. One comment summed it all up:

facebook comment


For the 350,000 people we serve each year, that bell and kettle means something special. It means a warm meal, and a safe place; it means the lights stay on, Christmas for your kids is not forgotten, and the opportunity to go to camp in the summertime. It means the chance to grow up healthy, to shed old habits, and to receive the help to build a path to a better future.

Most people don’t come to The Salvation Army when their lives are in perfect order. And just like you need to be prepared for a crisis BEFORE it happens, we prepare 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to accommodate the hundreds of thousands of people who need some extra help.

The Tree of Lights campaign is in full swing; we are raising the needed dollars it takes to keep the doors open year ’round and all of the money stays local. So whether you can ring the bell proudly, host your own (virtual) kettle, or drop some change in to support our programs, you are helping us keep the mission going.

Because we want to be there for you, too, should you ever find yourself on our doorstep. And we will welcome you–every single one of you–with open arms.


It’s Official: Our Veterans Residence is a Reality

Today was an incredible day for veterans in St. Louis.

The Salvation Army opened our Veterans Residence in Midtown with some valued company. Mayor Francis Slay, St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley, Major General Greg Couch US TRANSCOM Chief of Staff, Alderwoman Marlene Davis of the 19th Ward in St. Louis, John Wuest of St. Louis Equity Fund, and aides from the Governor’s office and other government offices were there to show their support of this great undertaking. From The Salvation Army we were so pleased to have our National Commander William Roberts present, as well as Commissioner Nancy Roberts, Colonel Merle Heatwole, and Colonel Dawn Heatwole.

The Veterans Residence has 48 apartments adorned with marble counter tops, green amenities and even flat screen TVs. Half of the building is permanent housing, and other other 24 apartments are 2 year transitional housing to make sure that basic needs are met while they work on the other areas of their lives that need support. Some might have substance abuse issues or other concerns, so case management works directly with all the men and women who enter the facility. The goal when these men and women leave the 2 year program will be to have employment, another place to live and money in the bank.

Today also kicked off our Tree of Lights campaign, so it is officially kettle season for St. Louis.

We’re so grateful to everyone that could attend. Today was a great day.

Divisional Commander Major Lonneal Richardson holding the ribbon high.

New Year, New Hope, New Challenges


By: Danni Eickenhorst, Midland Division

The bellringers who usher in the Christmas season so brightly with the jingle of their bell have put away their kettles for another year, but the Tree of Lights campaign continues through the end of January, and the work we do will continue for as long as there is support.

365 days a year, The Salvation Army provides homeless services, food pantry assistance, rent and utility supplements, youth programming, senior services, emergency disaster response, ministry and more. 82 cents of every dollar we receive from our donors goes directly into programming that changes lives in the St. Louis area.

Because the facts and figures for 2011 aren’t quite in yet, let’s take a look at the work of The Salvation Army in 2010.

In 2010, The Salvation Army’s Midland Division (Missouri and Southern Illinois):

  • Provided recreation opportunities at local community centers for 115,000 individuals, primarily low-income youth.
  • Assisted 170 individuals with more than 5,000 nights of transitional housing.
  • Distributed more than 39,000 toys at Christmas to children and families in need.
  • Served more than 50,000 people through feeding programs such as our community center soup kitchens located throughout the division.
  • Provided more than 170 individuals with access to affordable workforce housing in the Downtown St. Louis area through our Railton apartments.
  • Served 4,503 individuals at our Harbor Light facility which provides housing and rehabilitation services to veterans and homeless men.
  • Visited with and ministered to shut-ins, patients in hospitals, nursing homes and infirmaries. Distributed more than 27,000 gifts and publications to these individuals.
  • Gave more than 1,200 backpacks filled with school supplies to needy children who would otherwise have had to go to school without supplies.

In 2011, The Salvation Army Midland Division continued to provide service daily in all of these areas and more, as needed, while facing significant shortages and reductions in government support through tax credits and other programs. Individuals who once supported The Salvation Army financially began coming to seek out their own assistance and donations began to diminish. Natural disasters came in large numbers and epic proportions, and we answered the call to serve every time.

In order to continue being good stewards of the gifts God and donors provide, The Salvation Army cannot spend money than it receives in donations. Because of the reduction in support and the increase in need, we have had to turn away more and more requests for assistance, and it breaks the hearts of our staff and officers to have to do so.

We are hopeful that in 2012 we will begin to see a groundswell of support, that as we share the stories of the work we do, hearts will be touched and support will be given so that we can continue to change lives throughout the New Year.

Exciting work is being done in the St. Louis area and we are proud to be doing it. Thank you for your support, whether it be in spirit, in time or in dollars given. We simply couldn’t do it without you.

To find out more about how you can get involved in helping us in 2012, please click here.

To learn more about The Salvation Army’s programs, click here.

A Baptism of Forgiving Tears

By: Major Kris Wood, Maplewood Officer

On a bitter cold and windy December Saturday in the year 2010, a Salvation Army bell ringer named Derek was about three hours into an eight hour shift when the wind shifted and blasted the bone chilling cold into his face, followed by small projectiles of ice crystals that pelted him in the face and bounced to the concrete at his feet. Derek shivered, and pulled his collar tighter around his thick football player’s neck. A woman passed by the kettle without noticing either the bell or Derek. “Merry Christmas,” Derek said with a smile on his face. He did not feel merry at the moment. It had been a long and bitter bell ringing season and his body was reaching its limit of enduring the battering of the winter weather and the constant echoing of the bell in his right hand. Derek told himself that he could make it through another day; suffering through the cold was worth it when he thought of all the people he was helping by raising money for The Salvation Army. He pictured a little girl he had seen at The Salvation Army building standing half hidden behind her Mommy’s leg as they waited for a bag of groceries from the food pantry. He knew that his bell ringing was making a difference in that little girl’s life so he rang the bell with more energy and forced that smile to stay upon his face.

“You stupid, &$#@#$!” someone said, standing only inches to his left, shouting at the top of his lungs the most horrible of all racial slurs. “Shut that bell up and go home where you belong!” the angry man continued. Derek, a large and muscular man, felt his fists tighten at his sides; the deep anger that only an African American man can understand when someone degrades him once again in such a brutal manner; well up inside of him. Derek stepped back, ready to defend himself from the angry man’s assault. “You heard me, boy!” the man shouted, and then entered the store that Derek was assigned to stand beside for the day. Catching himself before saying or doing something in response, Derek called out to the man, “Sir, You have a Merry Christmas!” With that, the life changing confrontation ended. The man was gone and Derek was left alone standing outside the store, ringing the bell, enduring the cold. Inside Derek’s mind words bounced around, questions arose and his anger seethed throughout his body. Derek decided to do what his Grandmother had taught him to do when someone mocked him or made fun of him; he prayed.
“Dear Lord. Please help that man. He’s so angry. Forgive him and help me to forgive him. Amen.”
Derek finished the day with a vehement purpose to make eye contact with and smile upon every person coming in and out of the store. By the time the Salvation Army van pulled up, Derek had seen customers fill two kettles with money; his best day ever on the kettles. The officer driving the van asked sincerely, “How was your day, Derek?” He smiled and reached out his hand to shake Derek’s hand. Derek hesitated just a moment, and then looked his friend, the officer, in the eyes. He saw caring and acceptance from his friend and shook his hand in return, nearly breaking the bones in the officer’s hand.
“What’s wrong?” the officer asked, seeing the momentary pause in the greeting, so unusual for the usually jolly bell ringer.
“Nothing,” Derek muttered as he took his place seated with the other bell ringers. The officer and everyone else in the van knew that something was wrong as Derek stared silently out of the van window as they drove toward the next kettle location. Derek usually filled the van with his joyful laughter and casual joking with his fellow bell ringers. He was known for his strong pats on the back, loud outbursts of laughter and his huge smile. Everyone loved Derek because Derek freely gave from his loving heart to everyone he met, no matter who they were, where they were from or what they had done. This day, there had been a change in Derek and all the bell ringers rode in silence, disturbed by Derek’s distance from each of them as his eyes scanned the trees rushing past the window.

After all the other bell ringers had left for home, Derek pulled his Salvation Army officer friend aside and told him about the angry man and the disturbing confrontation earlier in the day. The officer was upset and shaken by the entire event. He promised Derek that he would never have to go back to that location again. He promised that all people in the world did not look at others through bigoted eyes, scarred by prejudice and rage, but that most people were caring and kind and would never hate someone because of their race. Derek knew that it was all just a weak attempt to make him feel better but it was not working. “Major,” Derek interrupted. “That man, he ain’t so different from most others. I seen it all before. People do hate people cuz of their skin. It aint nothin’ new to me. Black men learn to accept it as just the way things are in the world.” The major was silent, embarrassed that his words had rung empty, the reality of the world crashing them to the ground.
“I’m sorry, Derek,” he said, unsure of what else to say.
“It’s all good, Major,” Derek said. “I look at it this way. That man needed to hear my Merry Christmas more than anyone else I have ever seen on the kettle. If he didn’t like me then that’s his problem. My job was to tell him to have a Merry Christmas and I did my job. I’ve got to let it go now or it will make me angry just like him, so I’m letting it go.” Derek waved his hands from side to side above his head as if releasing responsibility, stress and shame. Derek smiled and bear hugged the officer. “Put me back there tomorrow, Major,” he demanded.
“You sure, Derek?” the officer asked.
Derek smiled and said, “If I don’t go back and raise the money for the kids then that man and evil people like him win and I aint gonna let him win!”

One year later the wind was warm and blowing across the same parking lot moving spring like air into Derek’s face. What a difference a year makes. Sunshine was blinding his eyes and he rang the bell in his shirt sleeves, wearing no jacket. He was smiling and ringing the bell wishing everyone that past a Merry Christmas. A little old lady, so typical of little old ladies; small, hunched over, wearing a wool winter coat topped by a red scarf, glasses perched on the tip of her nose; smiled at Derek and said, “You are a jolly elf aren’t you?” Derek smiled and said thank you to the kind woman who put her money into the kettle. “I remember you from last year,” she said. “You have such a sweet smile.” Derek smiled his broadest smile.
“Thank you, Ma’am,” he said. “Merry Christmas to you.” The little old lady shuffled away behind her shopping cart, waving at Derek as she left. Derek looked forward to those moments when someone shared a kind moment with him, as if they brought hope back into a world that seemed to be getting harder to live in and in which to make a living.
“I’ve been looking for you,” a familiar voice said, once again catching Derek by surprise as he stood inches from his face off to the left of the kettle stand. The voice was THE voice of the man from the year before. Derek felt his heart start to beat rapidly; fear made his palms sweat and the hair stand up on the back of his neck.
“You didn’t listen to me, did you?” the man asked. Derek turned to look into the gray sunken eyes of the man. He looked older than Derek remembered, stress lines edging his eyes and dark shadows hanging beneath them.
“I’m sorry, sir,” Derek said. “But, I had to stay here and ring my bell so that we can help the little kids that need help. I wasn’t about to let you make me leave. You can hate me as much as you want, but I ring for the kids.” The man hesitated and stared into Derek’s eyes. Derek kept ringing the bell and met the empty stare with his own filled with kindness.
“I’ve hated you every day for the past year,” the man said. Derek was silent.
“I’ve hated you every day because of what you said,” the man continued. He looked down at the tops of his brown leather shoes and dug his hands into the front pockets of his jeans. Derek kept watching and ringing the bell.
“I have hated you because you told me to have a Merry Christmas after I looked you in the eye and called you the most horrible thing I could think of calling you.” Derek smiled in response. The man began to cry. Long streams of tears rolled down his wrinkled cheeks and his shoulders began to shake. He tried to continue telling Derek his story. “I’ve hated you because,…” He paused to wipe the tears from his cheeks. “Because when I was so horrible to you, you showed me kindness. I, I, … I didn’t deserve kindness, I deserved for you to hit me, to yell at me, to do something to hurt me back, but you didn’t. You didn’t and every single day of this year I have thought about that. Every day I have thought about why you didn’t yell back at me or punch me in the mouth, but every day I keep seeing you smile and tell me to have a Merry Christmas.”
The man began to sob again, this time turning his back to Derek to hide his shame. Derek put his large paw of a right hand on the man’s shoulder and said, “It’s alright, sir.” The man turned and buried his face into Derek’s shoulder and reached his arms awkwardly around Derek’s back. “I’m so, sorry,” he said. “I’m so, so sorry.” He cried out loud, sounding like a small child in Derek’s strong embrace. “It’s okay, sir,” Derek repeated.
“No, it’s not okay,” the man said. “It will never be okay. I shouldn’t have done that, I shouldn’t have…. Will you ever be able to forgive me?” he asked looking up at Derek as he continued crying against his shoulder. Derek gently moved the man away from himself and said, “I already forgave you last year when I told you, Merry Christmas.”
The man looked at Derek; bewildered, unsure, not trusting. It was too much to believe, too much to handle.
“You forgave me?” he asked Derek.

Derek gave his big, kind smile and said, “A year ago, sir. I forgave you a year ago.” The man backed away from Derek and prepared to walk away. Then, he stopped and turned back to face Derek and said, “You keep ringing that bell to help the kids and you have a Merry Christmas.”

Derek felt the healing of tears well up in his eyes and they flowed freely down his cheeks cleansing him of the past, freeing him from the pain; a baptism of forgiving. “Merry Christmas!” Derek yelled out to the parking lot in the man’s direction. The man turned and smiled at Derek and waved his hand high in return. Indeed, it was a Merry Christmas.

By George, I think they’ve got it!

By: Sheila R. Davis, Volunteer Coordinator

“By George, I think they’ve got it!” That was my thought this past weekend.  We’ve been stressing to our kids how blessed we are and how we need to use our blessings to bless others.  Last week, my 4 year old twins pouted and moped when we gave to our church’s toy drive, “I need those toys.” said Lewis.  “No, you have more than enough, these are for who may not receive a Christmas gift,” said his father.   Lewis nodded, though I don’t think he was really convinced.  This Saturday, my ten year old son, Sam and I were out shopping and he saw a bellringer.  On his own he pulled out a dollar of his allowance and put in the kettle, usually I have to give him the money. Then he admonished me, “Uh Mom, where’s your dollar?” Last night Olivia saw me wrap a few presents for the Adopt-A-Family program and she said, “That’s not for us right, it’s for people don’t have Christmas.”  So she didn’t get it quite right, she’s beginning understand that there are many families who are in need right now.  In this “me, me, ME” society I sometimes wonder if my kids will learn to be grateful for their blessings and be giving in return. It is good see that the lessons are taking root.

Each year, we at The Salvation Army bear witness to families giving back. Whether it’s dropping a few dollars in the red kettles; volunteering to collect toys at one of our Angel Tree drives  or food at the annual Wehrenberg Cans Film Festival; or boxing food for needy families, parents are teaching their children that helping others is a natural thing to do.  Research shows that 81 percent of Americans who have volunteer experiences when they are young give to charitable organizations as adults.[i]  Once instilled as a child, giving becomes a lifelong tradition.

 We thank all the families who have helped The Salvation Army so far this year. It’s not too late to help this Christmas.  When you come across a bellringing, please donate. Better yet, a take a few hours out of your busy schedule and volunteer to ring as a family.  While you’re Christmas shopping, pick up one extra gift for a child in need and drop it off at your nearest Salvation Army Corps.  Your gift might be the only present a child receives this year.  More importantly the gift you’re giving your child is invaluable – the tradition of helping others.

[i]Young Volunteers: The Benefits of Community Service  http://www.unce.unr.edu/publications/files/cd/2003/fs0323.pdf

Every time a bell rings…

By: Valerie Murray, Estate Coordinator, Midland Division

Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings.

That’s the phrase ZuZu says at the end of the movie It’s a Wonderful Life.

Bells are ringing all over right now. Church bells, jingle bells, concerts, and of course, Salvation Army bells. The bell ringers are out in full force. If what ZuZu said is true, many angels have been promoted to Angel 1st Class this season.

However, our bell ringers aren’t out there for the celestial angels. They are ringing for the angels we can see, hear, and touch: They are there for the little children hoping that Santa doesn’t forget them this year. They are there for the mother who needs help feeding her children and the veteran who finds himself without a home. They are there for an elderly man who visits the adult day care center while his son is at work; and don’t forget the camping programs for children who may have no other access to exploring and enjoying the outdoors. They are there for tornado victims, overwhelmed by the destruction around them.

Our angels don’t get wings. What they get is our love, care, understanding, and prayers. They get our promise that we will be there when needed, not just at Christmas, but also all year round.

When you pass a bell ringer this season, give him or her a knowing nod of your head and a smile. You know what they are doing when they wave that bell back and forth. They are helping our angels.

Remember to “Stock Gifts” Under the Tree this Christmas Season

by Timothy Henry, Planned Giving Director & Tom Kovach, Major Gifts Director

Are you looking for a way to increase your giving to our Tree of Lights Campaign without disposing of additional cash?   Does the idea of receiving a double tax break when you donate to The Salvation Army sound appealing?

Consider making a gift of appreciated securities.

Amid the current economic uncertainly in the United States and Europe, the U.S. stock market is in flux and the week of November 28 was no exception.  All three major averages posted a gain of over 7 percent last week yet stocks erased most of their earlier gains on Friday to finish near the flat-line as investors booked profits before last weekend. Meanwhile Europe’s sovereign-debt crisis, which has dragged on for more than two years, is entering a pivotal week, as leaders across the continent converge to prevent a collapse of the euro and a financial panic from spreading.

Following economic news developments is important but nothing is more crucial today than making a difference through a donation of appreciated securities to The Salvation Army.   By gifting appreciated stock or mutual funds to our Tree of Lights campaign, you could potentially save $1,000 in taxes on a $5,000 donation.  The benefits of appreciated stock gifts are two-fold:  receive a charitable deduction and avoid capital gain tax treatment. 

This gifting approach often allows more “bang” for your charitable buck!

First, gifts of appreciated securities are eligible for an itemized charitable deduction on your tax return — the same as a cash donation. Instead of deriving the amount of the charitable deduction from the amount of cash given, the charitable deduction is calculated based on the Fair Market Value (commonly known as the “FMV”) of the number of shares given to The Salvation Army on the date of gift.  Second the gift of appreciated stock allows you to escape recognizing capital gain treatment of the shares.

Please ensure the appreciated stock you select has been held for more than one year and consult with your financial planner or CPA to decide if this gifting strategy is right for you. 

If you would like to make gift of appreciated securities before December 31, you or your broker may call our office at 314-646-3016 or 314-646-3019 and ask for Tim Henry (timothy_henry@usc.salvationarmy.org) or Tom Kovach (tom_kovach@usc.salvationarmy.org).

Letter from a Volunteer

Sheila Davis received this report from a volunteer who recently manned our Angel Tree station. collecting gifts and distributing tags with her daughter. These words touched out heart and we wanted to share. We are so thankful for our volunteers! To review and sign up for volunteer opportunities, click here.

“Lindsey and I have a GREAT time yesterday! We got there around 1:30 – got it opened by security – and waited for a couple who brought some gifts by around 4:15 – then had security close us down.  Overall we had 12 tags taken and 4 gifts returned.  It was a great joy to see my girl understand that those four gifts meant that four children were going to have a present under their tree this year… She danced to try to get peoples attention to take a tag…

When the people showed up with gifts – she looked at me and said “I understand mama – these are going to make children very happy Christmas morning!” 

Sheila – I had to go behind the black curtain to “get more tags” just so I could wipe the tears from my eyes.  It was nice to see her realize at 9 that what she did for a simple 3 hours made a difference in four peoples lives yesterday!  We look very forward to doing this again on the 12/10 from 10-12.  I am not sure if you have her/us assigned for that date/time yet but please do b/c it was very rewarding!  
Looking forward to help with the can food drive at Wehrenberg (I think Lindsey has about 20 of her friends families coming up!) as well as being and “angel” again on the 10th! “

A tip of the cap from Scrooge…

by Tom Kovach, Major Gifts Director

In the Sunday’s Business edition of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the headline reads: Worthy charities earn Scrooge’s nod. It was written by Jim Gallagher, a well respected columnist for the newspaper.  Mr. Gallagher starts the article off by saying the older he gets, the more like Scrooge he becomes. He takes this approach to charity for 11 months of the year. 

Then after Thanksgiving, a strange malady overcomes him and Mr. Gallagher writes: “A warm and giddy feeling (a fever, perhaps?) grips me, and before I regain my senses, I write a bunch of checks. The Salvation Army, the St. Louis Area Foodbank, a couple of homeless shelters……” He goes on to pen that “we sufferers from Seasonal Charity Disorder need professional help.”  Mr. Gallagher is open and humorous with how he feels about giving to charity but the most important point the article made was: “When that warm and giddy check-writing impulses grips you, be sure you’re giving to charities that really do what they promise.”

Our promise to you is to continue to be accountable and transparent.  Eighty two cents on the dollars is distributed to programs and services in the St. Louis area and The Salvation Army takes a tremendous amount of care with your investment.  For example, the area that I specialize is major gifts and they come in all sizes from corporations to individuals and the best way to describe the collage of our donors was at the recent Tree of Lights kickoff luncheon.  A potpourri of donors were present- Edward Jones, St. Louis Design Alliance, St. Louis Equity Fund, AT&T, Albert Arno Heating and Cooling just to name a few.  New and current Salvation Army Midland Division board members mingled with guests.   This event was a mixture of brand new investors to The Salvation Army and our dear friends who have supported The Salvation Army for many years.

Whether you are a first-time donor or you make your gift in December each year, I highly encourage you to open and read prior testimonies from our social media pages to actually see how we make a difference in people’s lives!  The Salvation Army is a charity that really does what we promise.  Read what we do from these moving stories written by our Contest Specialist Danni Eickenhorst, officers and staff members, then decide at what level you think we are worth—it can be $50, $100, a dollar a day ($365), $2,500, a gift of stock, IRA contribution or much more.

You will find and rest assured your donation to The Salvation Army – no matter at what level– to be a positive, uplifting return on investment for the St. Louis region.

Bearing witness to a year of miracles

By: Danni Eickenhorst, Midland Division

“Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.” — William Arthur Ward

You may not realize this, but we writers don’t often get the opportunity to take jobs where we can write about the things we love. In fact to be quite honest, many of the paid writing jobs I’ve taken in the past were quite the opposite. This year, I was blessed with the opportunity to serve as the voice for The Salvation Army’s Midland Division, and I feel like I have won the lottery.

Nights around the dinner table in my home have certainly changed. Where once I didn’t have much to say about my day at work (There wasn’t much compelling to share on the days I spent drafting business proposals.), there have been days I have come home and wept with joy that God gave me an opportunity to help someone that day, or simply to listen to them when they clearly needed to be heard. I’ve made friends in some of the most unlikely places, and I’ve been privileged enough to tell stories that will certainly change lives.

I recently celebrated 6 months with The Salvation Army, and in that time, I have met more incredible people than some will meet in their entire lifetime, and have witnessed much of this year of miracles in The Salvation Army – running at a breakneck pace (often with a backpack, a camera and a three piece suit!) to keep up with officers as the Army swoops in to answer the call of yet another disaster, all the while tending to their regular food pantry and social service clients and droves of new ones too. I served in Joplin on and off throughout the summer, and immediately following the storm, listening to the stories of those who wanted to speak, and connecting others with the resources and help that they needed. I wrote and co-produced two films based on the Army’s work in Missouri and Southern Illinois, and I daily break bread with single mothers fighting for their families, criminals who have found God, senior citizens to whom we give real quality of life, and some phenomenal officers and volunteers.

This year, I am thankful for the resources to help those in need; for the people who have shared with me their incredible and, at times, heartbreaking stories; for our faithful masses who share our stories, and for whatever effect they may be having on those that read them – whether it be compelling a donation of time, prayers or goods.

This year marks my first “Tree of Lights” campaign with The Salvation Army, but as we go into this kickoff weekend with all of its many events, and even more to come, look for me in the crowd with the rest of you, eyes aglow with merriment and wonder at the birth of my Lord and Savior and the amazing work of this incredible organization. There isn’t a day that goes by that I’m not thankful for this gift.

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