The holiday season isn’t just about food and family; it’s also about giving back to those less fortunate. For those who want to give back, support those who are less fortunate and help those struggling with addiction, the Salvation Army is the place to go. Even during a pandemic that has led to a loss of 40 percent of their locations, the Salvation Army on 93 Stony Circle in Santa Rosa still put on quite a show Saturday morning with their Red Kettle Event.
Captain Rio Ray, the Commanding Corps Officer, spoke about the toll the Pandemic has had on business and explained how the Red Kettle Event helps.
“The Salvation Army has had the Red Kettle fundraiser since the 1800s, 1890 in San Francisco was the first one,” Ray said. “For a long time, that’s been our staple fundraiser, this year because of COVID we’ve lost about 42 percent of our locations, so the Kettle Drive-Thru is an event to help raise the money we’ve been missing.”
This event was a way for the Army to raise money so they can continue offering the services they are known for, such as Knights of Shelter, senior programs and tutoring for kids. The Army feeds about 3000 people a month with their food pantry as well as rental.
Saturday’s event was called a Red Kettle Drive-Thru. It was an hour-long event starting at 9:30 and took place at the Santa Rosa location. The event consisted of a live DJ, volunteers with signs supporting the Salvation Army and a Santa. Instead of people walking around outside they would come up in their cars and give money. Captain Ray was very happy with all the volunteers and those in the community willing to give back.
A drive-thru is something never done before, but because of COVID Captain Ray had to change the way the Salvation Army operates.
“COVID has changed our world, it’s changed how we offer services,” Ray said. “We are passing out food boxes in the parking lot instead of in our building. For our tutoring program we have plexiglass up so we can keep the kids safe, while also giving them the help they need.
“The Kettle Drive-Thru is our way of adjusting to the times,” Ray said. “We had a $50,000 match, where donations were matched up to $50,000 and we had people send in checks along with those who drove by Saturday. We are really thankful to our donors, volunteers and those who make a difference.”
One of the volunteers mentioned by Captain Ray was Rodolfo Fernandez. Fernandez drives the donation truck every day for the Salvation Army, delivering goods and services to those who are in need. He had a very simple answer on why he wanted to join the Salvation Army.
“I wanted to help, I wanted to make a little bit of a difference for anyone who needed it,” Fernandez said. “I drive the truck picking up the food donations for the Salvation Army. I do it every morning starting about 7-7:30 a.m. until all the donations are delivered.”
Fernandez has been the truck driver for nine months and gets a great feeling when driving the truck.
“It’s very rewarding, since I’m doing whatever I can to help the community,” Fernandez said. This makes me appreciate life a lot better.”
Another important aspect of the Salvation Army is giving shelter and assistance to those struggling in life. This is what happened with Ken Nielsen. He has an all too common story of someone who had everything and instead of appreciating life, became an alcoholic. Currently Nielsen is in recovery and credits the Army for helping steer him back on the right path.
“I’m a guy who had everything, money, family and friends and I became an alcoholic which cost me everything,” Nielsen said. “I lost absolutely everything to the point where I was homeless, helpless and hungry. Salvation Army came to my aid and saved my life.”
Nielsen says without the Salvation Army he wouldn’t be here today. He tried to commit suicide last September and didn’t believe life was worth living. He credits the Salvation Army for helping him get his life back on track.
“The Salvation Army gave me purpose and meaning in my life again,” Nielsen said. “I’m now doing stuff that makes me feel better. I’m helping people every day. The Salvation Army is not a big organization, it’s just people who give what they can, do what they can and just do the right thing every day.”
The stories of Fernandez and Nielsen really show the core of what the Salvation Army is all about. It shows there’s goodness in the world and people who are selfless and put others before themselves. During this pandemic and time of divisiveness, it’s important to highlight the goodness in the world instead of the bad.
Captain Ray says the Salvation Army will continue to focus on helping others during the holiday season and is happy with how the Red Kettle Drive-Thru event went overall.