Dec14ThuThe Salvation Army brings smiles to children’s faces during the holidays. December 14, 2017 by Pamela Richardson
Grace Millwood (not her real name) was devastated when she lost her job five years ago.
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With a family of nine to care for, providing the basics of life became a struggle. That’s when she turned to her local Salvation Army in Bermuda for help. “They have been a godsend,” she says, “providing food for my family.”
As the holidays approached last year, Millwood signed up for a hamper, trusting that the turkey and other items she would receive might help her provide a nice Christmas for her family. “I’ve raised my children to know that it’s not all about the presents,” she explains. “It’s about coming together as a family.”
When an anonymous corporate donor contacted the Army to say they wished to sponsor a family in need, Millwood, her husband and their children received more than they could have hoped for. Not only were they given food to see them through the holidays and gifts for all seven children, including toys and clothes, but enough food vouchers to last for the next six months. “There are no words to describe how blessed we are,” she says.
Millwood’s experience is just one example of the tremendous impact of Salvation Army ministries across the Canada and Bermuda Territory—not just on those who receive assistance but also on the hundreds of officers, employees and volunteers who make it all possible. Read on for more stories of how lives have been touched and changed through the practical expressions of God’s love at Christmastime through The Salvation Army.
Seed of Faith
My family immigrated to Canada from Finland in the early 1960s with hundreds of other families. Finances were a continual hardship and even the smallest luxury was not to be seen. Life was a constant struggle for our family of six as we settled in a small town in northern Ontario.
Having no grasp of the English language and Canadian culture, we felt like outsiders, and were ostracized by other Finnish families for being among the poorest people in our rural community. We had to barter work for basic necessities, such as milk, and received secondhand clothing from our neighbours. As they were able, my parents bought us a new set of clothes for school, but most often I wore hand-me-downs, only to be ridiculed by those who had given them to us. Lunch for school usually consisted of a slice of rye bread and an occasional piece of fruit, and suppers were often broth soup with a slice of bread.
Life felt especially dark one year as Christmas drew closer. In Finland, Christmas is celebrated on Christmas Eve, but December 23 had arrived with no glimpse of presents or food for a celebration meal. I recall my mom crying in her bed as to why they had left the bounty of Finland for what seemed like empty promises of a foreign country.
Late in the afternoon, a knock was heard at the door. I slowly opened it and found a man standing there, dressed in a uniform with a hat on his head. I called my mom and told her that the police were at the door. The man smiled and introduced himself to my mother as an officer from The Salvation Army Kirkland Lake Corps. He explained that someone had called the Army to say that we were in need of Christmas assistance. He had driven more than 20 kilometres in a winter blizzard to bring our family presents and a Christmas meal.
From that day on, my parents never passed a Christmas kettle without putting in a coin or two, no matter how little money we had. I remember telling my mother that I wanted to be like that man when I grew up, to work for Jesus. I am an officer today because God touched my life through the efforts of The Salvation Army all those years ago and planted a seed of faith in my heart.
—Captain Hannu Lindholm, corps officer, Lakeshore Community Church, Toronto
Warm Hands and Hearts
As we were preparing for this Christmas season at community and family services, a man came in with 202 pairs of mittens for people in need. I didn’t recognize him, but when he said this would be the last such donation because his wife had passed away, a memory came back to me. Two years ago, a woman had stopped by with a donation of mittens and an apology that she had been unable to knit her usual 1,000 pairs because she had had part of a lung removed. I put the information from the man together with my memory of that woman and wondered if it was the same person. “Yes, that was my wife,” he said.
What impressed me more than the amount of knitting she had done in the time between her previous donation and her death was that her husband had kept those mittens over the months that followed, just especially to honour her wishes and keep her tradition of donating them to The Salvation Army. I’m still emotional whenever I think of this.
I’ve decided to tuck a little note into each pair of those precious mittens before including them with the gifts for our clients this Christmas, to share where they came from.
—Janet Thomas, community and family services ministry worker, Fredericton Community Church
Sally Ann Santa
The year was 1952 and I was a six-year-old girl with visions of Christmas dancing in my head. Financially it had been a lean year for our family of five and concern etched the faces of my parents. Being an optimistic child, I was sure Santa would come and bring me the beautiful doll I so desired. She would have long blond curls and wear a pretty dress.
No secret packages were smuggled into our home that year, no whispers or the sounds of crinkling wrapping paper. Not to worry though, because I believed beyond a doubt that Santa would bring my cherished doll, no matter the circumstances.
On Christmas Eve, a rapping was heard on our door.
“Come in,” my father said as he opened the door to two jovial men who stomped their snowy boots on the entrance mat. Being a shy child, I hid and peeked at the scene. Each man carried a large cardboard box which they placed on our kitchen table.
“We hope this offering will tide your family over the holidays,” I heard one man say.
“We can’t thank you enough,” my father replied. “There would be no Christmas for the kids if not for your generosity.”
“You can thank The Salvation Army, my friend. We just help with deliveries,” the second man stated.
Greetings were offered, handshakes given and the jolly men were gone. I sprang from my hiding place, excited to attack the mysterious boxes.
“No, no, little one, off to bed or Santa will not stop at this house tonight,” Mama warned.
Without argument, I hurried up the stairs to my bed and settled down with a smile knowing that Santa would bring my beautiful doll.
Along with the toys, The Salvation Army had provided a festive turkey dinner and peppermint candy.
Early the following morning I heard the familiar sounds of the fire being stoked in the kitchen stove, the only source of heat in our small two-storey home. My brother, my sister and I tumbled over the narrow stairs in anticipation of what Santa had brought.
Beneath the tree we saw games, colouring books and crayons, a gun and holster set for my brother and, wonder of wonders, a beautiful doll each for my sister and me. She was exactly as I had imagined, complete with blond ringlets and a frilly dress.
Along with the toys, The Salvation Army had provided the ingredients for a festive turkey dinner, grapes, oranges, nuts to crack open, chocolate, and peppermint and rainbow ribbon candy. Best of all were my parents’ smiles, so blessed that their children had a Christmas after all.
Now in my 70s, I take time to volunteer at a Salvation Army kettle. It is Christmas, the season of giving, and I am privileged to give back in my small way.
—Sharon O’Quinn, Groves Point, N.S.
Toys for Tots
Christmas was always busy for my grandparents, Majors Glen and Sandra Habkirk, but they still found time in their busy schedule to include me. I remember helping Grandma to build Christmas hampers, hand out prayer bears to younger children and sort toys for the toys-for-tots program. If I went to work with Grandpa, it meant picking up toys and working the kettles. I actually learned how to count by helping with the kettles at the end of the day!
One of my favourite parts of the Christmas season was participating in the teddy bear toss at a local hockey game in November every year. Going out onto the ice to collect the bears was always fun.
I will never forget the year I helped Grandpa to deliver toys to families in need. When he knocked on the door of one home, a couple with three young children appeared. “Merry Christmas from The Salvation Army,” is all I remember Grandpa saying before the couple started weeping. It made me realize why we do what we do. From that moment on, I knew this was something that I wanted to be a part of for the rest of my life.
I love helping people through the community and family services office where I work. Christmastime is very busy, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I am blessed to be a part of an organization that cares so much for people and wants to see those in need have a wonderful Christmas.
—Jayden Castelli, thrift store and family services manager, Fort Macleod, Alta.
Home for the Holidays
When you are a teenager living in a group home, it can seem like there is nothing good going on in your life, especially at Christmas. The staff at Gemma House in Regina work hard to give our residents a Christmas they can look back on with joy.
We decorate the house, do crafts and display things they’ve made at school to ensure that we have a festive and welcoming home. On the Friday before school ends for the holidays, we host a traditional turkey Christmas dinner for the residents, their families and friends. As part of our ongoing efforts to show the residents their worth, staff members prepare and bring special desserts and side dishes to add to the feast. After dinner we share in a devotional time before the residents open Christmas gifts purchased just for them. Our funding for gifts is limited so we rely on donations from the community and the support of The Salvation Army, our staff and friends of our program.
Our family services worker spends many hours setting up family visits for our residents throughout the holidays, but that is not possible for everyone. Residents unable to be with family on Christmas morning wake up to find stockings waiting for them to open, and we also buy gifts for the house—items needed for programming—that are wrapped and left to be opened by the residents on Christmas Day.
—Captain Kyla McKenzie, executive director, Grace Haven and Gemma House, Regina
Feature photo: © nicolesy/iStock.com