By JAY HOWSER
You see them ringing their bells outside the shopping center as you walk by them. Those Santa Clauses standing on street corners at Christmas ?2Dtime are after your money, but it is for a good cause.
They work for the Salvation Army, an organization on an unending mission of mercy to help the needy on a local and a global scale.
Started by William Booth in London in 1865, the Salvation Army is dedicated to providing Christian charity to those who need it most, no matter where in the world they are.
The organization’s presence can be felt in more than 100 countries — from Chile to Canada, from Russia to Rwanda, and from Taiwan to Tanzania.
Efforts are made all over the world to help the needy, especially at Christmas time.
Gina Stewart, floor manager at the Provo Salvation Army thrift store, helps coordinate a program to provide gifts, food and blankets for poor families during the holiday season.
The program relies on local volunteers to supply the gifts and services, and most of the time there are more needy families than volunteers, she said.
“It’s worked out pretty good. It just gets a little bit frustrating when there are 12 families that need help and nobody volunteering to help,” she said. “We get tons of calls from needy families. We just don’t get as many people who want to help.”
Last year, the center was able to help 15 families — some 45 to 50 children. Most of the volunteers were local families, with some businesses and college students also helping, Stewart said.
Currently, the Salvation Army is involved in a massive relief effort to help the victims of Hurricane Mitch in Central America.
According to news releases on the Salvation Army Web site, $10,000 has been sent to El Salvador to aid the 50,000 displaced people there. Five thousand people in Costa Rica have been given food, shelter or transportation to safe areas by the Salvation Army.
Sixty thousand dollars have been given to aid Nicaragua and Honduras, and relief efforts are also underway in Guatemala and Cuba. Maj. Roland Sewell, coordinator of Emergency Services, said this is just the beginning of what needs to be done to deal with the effects of the devastating hurricane.
“The immediate needs of the people are for food, clean water, shelter and medicines, but this is just the tip of the iceberg,” Sewell said. “We already know that the long-term recovery operation will take months, even years.”
Stewart said other local services provided by the Salvation Army include drug rehabilitation, soup kitchens and homeless shelters.
The Santa project is a major source of revenue for the organization, and collected funds go to Denver to be distributed to centers in four or five Western states, she said.
To find out more about the Salvation Army, visit the Web site at http://www.salvationarmy.org. To make a donation, call the Provo office at 377-7676 or 1-800-SAL-ARMY.