GLOVERSVILLE - Red kettles, the ringing of bells and warm greetings outside local stores are sure signs the holiday season is upon us, and they serve as reminders that the local unit of the Salvation Army is here, helping members of the community help their less fortunate neighbors.
Lts. Javon and Jennifer Anderson, the husband-and-wife team who took over in March as the officers running the local chapter of the Christian charity organization, say they are enthusiastic about entering their first holiday season in the Glove Cities.
"The year's definitely been good to us," said Lt. Javon Anderson. "People say they appreciate us being here."
Salvation Army bell-ringer Casey Lemaitre, left, assists Ron Lennon as he puts a donation in the red kettle on Thursday outside the Walmart store off Fifth Avenue Extension in the town of Johnstown. (The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan)
Jennifer, who runs the unit's events and special programs, said she and Javon familiarized themselves with Gloversville and the surrounding county, doing research before moving here from their last assignment in Watertown. She acknowledged they have their work cut out for them in this community because of its longstanding economic woes and the social problems that result.
"We want to establish programs that will help with problems like the cycle of poverty, help with literacy," she said.
Javon, who oversees the unit's soup kitchen, food pantry and giveaway programs, said though they are pleased with what they've accomplished so far this year, they want to do much more. And in order to do so, they need more people to step forward and offer investments of time, money and compassion, he said.
"I know that the Salvation Army has opportunities for families and youngsters, but we need to get the word out," Javon said. "We're not just the thrift store."
One of the couple's projects this year has been to establish a weekly children's program at the Salvation Army community center on Spring Street, across from the building at 10 Spring St. that houses the offices, food pantry, soup kitchen and chapel.
The Kids Club program is on hold this month but will resume in January. The Andersons said the effort to make the community center an active hub of positive activity has had some help from students at Fulton-Montgomery Community College, but the students' availability has been hit-or-miss, partly due to conflicts with their academic schedules and other responsibilities. The couple has high hopes for the facility and says more volunteers are needed to make it a continuing success.
The Andersons said they are willing to work with any people who have a sincere interest in volunteering, as long as they care about the community, are kind to others and are willing to take direction from the officers.
"We accept people for what they are," Javon said.
"We have room for people to join us," he said, citing opportunities for adult volunteers and programs for children, including the Moonbeams and Sunbeams programs, which are the Salvation Army's answer to Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts.
Javon said he has heard that program was very active in past generations, but at some point it "fell into a coma," and they would like to revive it.
This year, the unit was able to send nine local children to the Salvation Army's weeklong summer camp in the Finger Lakes region, Javon said.
"But we want to send a lot more than that," he said.
Javon said the Salvation Army soup kitchen doesn't serve canned food - it serves real, freshly prepared meals. He's seen some people who come to eat at the soup kitchen have taken the initiative to clean up and otherwise help out.
"That's what I love," he said. "If people get a sense of ownership and take responsibility, it will have a positive impact. ... The thing that is mind-boggling is the people who are giving are people who don't have much."
The soup kitchen is open at 10 Spring St. on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays at 4:30 p.m.
The Salvation Army's local Red Kettle Campaign began Nov. 9, with kettles set up outside several stores in the Glove Cities.
The fundraising goal for this holiday season's Red Kettle Campaign is $30,000, slightly more than last year's goal. The local unit's total annual operating budget is $248,000.
Jim Cownie of Broadalbin, a former member of the local Salvation Army advisory board, was ringing the bell and collecting donations on Friday outside Mohawk Harvest Cooperative Market on North Main Street in Gloversville.
He said he's volunteered with the Salvation Army in past years, and he's impressed with the Andersons' energy and accomplishments here so far.
"They're terrific," Cownie said.
Ways to chip in
Jennifer Anderson said people can make donations online through the "Virtual Red Kettle Campaign" by going to www.onlineredkettle.org. All donations made by local people will support local programs, and if $5,000 is raised online this season, the local unit will receive a matching donation of $1,000 from the Syracuse branch of the Salvation Army.
Real red kettles can be set up for special events at local businesses and organizations, and anyone interested in volunteering as a bell-ringer or in any other capacity is encouraged to contact her. She can be reached at 725-4119 or by email at email@example.com.
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Features Editor Bill Ackerbauer can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.