The Salvation Army is easily recognized by its signature red bucket and annual Christmas Angels, but the help they organization provides to Lamar County goes much further than that.
The local Salvation Army chapter covers the entire county, and it welcomes volunteers from near and far. Major Frankco Higdon said volunteer support can range anywhere from donations to simply visiting the organization to help with bread lines and red kettles.
“We need the community to support us,” Higdon said.
The Salvation Army is looking to deepen the amount of help it can provide the local needy as it nears completion of one of its largest projects ever. Lately, the organization has struggled to help the homeless because hotel rooms are expensive.
To address the problem, it is renovating a shelter near its downtown office. But the project hit a snag — the nonprofit needs additional funds beyond its normal donations to install fire sprinklers in the building before the bitter cold of winter sets in.
Without the necessary fire sprinklers, the building cannot pass fire code, something dear to the community following a 2009 fire that killed five at another local homeless shelter. The project is expected to cost approximately $100,000, at least $30,000 of which potential grants will not cover, Higdon said.
Building homeless shelters is not the only service work the Salvation Army is doing.
It provides social services, utilities, clothing vouchers and balanced meals. Meals are offered from 11:30 a.m. to noon and from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday at 350 W. Kaufman St. to whoever needs it. The nonprofit also offers emotional support through youth groups and other spiritually based programs.
“It’s a long day for me and my wife, but at the end of the day, it is worth it. It is worth it because we will be able to do our best to help others in our community that are in need,” Higdon said.
Paris resident Melissa Keisler is just one of many who have been helped by the Salvation Army.
“Today I am just trying to live a better way of life, and it all started here with the Salvation Army,” she said.
Three years ago, she was homeless and struggling with drug and alcohol addiction. She originally started coming to the Salvation Army because of its meal programs.
Over time, though, Keisler found such a welcoming community that she kept coming back.
“I started going to the church and at one point, God just told me, ‘Melissa, you are not going to do this to yourself no more. Your life is going to change today,’” she said.
With the help of Salvation Army volunteers, Melissa changed her life.
“I was really a lost person,” she said. “Sometimes I would come up here and they would let me wash my clothes, they would let me take showers, and they were really just looking out for me.”
Not only was she able to change her own life, but Keisler was also able to help her significant other become sober and live a better quality of life as well. She is still amazed at the difference she’s found in her relationships and physical health.
“My depression is gone, and I’m starting to go back to church. It’s just a complete 180 from where we were to where we are at right now,” she said.
Long after the last bell has rung, the Salvation Army is there for the community.
Whether through a hot meal or emotional support, the organization is changing lives year round, living up to its mission of “doing the most good.”