By LeRae Haynes –

The Salvation Army in Williams Lake, with its ever-expanding array of services and programs in the community, is gearing up for a busy winter season that includes warm clothing, great winter activities, and holiday meals for clients, as well as its annual fundraiser: the Christmas kettles.

Nesika Elementary School students Kody Arsenault, Will Austin, David Pierce, and Quintin Salter were recently rewarded for working hard at school by getting to help pack hampers at the Salvation Army Food Bank. Photo submitted by Salvation Army

Coming in January will be a cooking program, teaching people how to budget, cook, and prepare food—stretching a food hamper, according to Lieutenant Dawn Butt, Salvation Army Williams Lake Corps.

“Also coming soon to the drop-in centre is bingo, with fun trinkets to win,” she said. “And we’re taking clients skating in November—we’ve already booked the ice rink and have skates set aside for those who don’t have them.”

Clients can stop by the comfortable drop-in centre to watch TV in a home setting, play pool and crib, and work out in the gym. There are snacks and coffee at the counter, with popcorn and a movie offered on Thursdays.

“We have several pool tournaments a week that the clients organize themselves, and every day breakfast and lunch is served upstairs in the dining room,” said Butt.

“For our clients, this is their safe place. They keep order, are very protective of it, and keep it clean. This is their home. There’s a good degree of fellowship and camaraderie: a real level of respect in here.”

Besides the food bank and the thrift store, the Salvation Army also provides showers with clean towels and toiletries for those who need them. “All are invited to our church services if they would like a further connection,” she said. “We offer limited counselling and have the resources to hook people up with further services as needed.”

“Narcotics Anonymous meets here twice a week, open to the public as well as to our clients, and we run ongoing Hepatitis C clinics, too. A street nurse and her team come in and do scans—people can choose to get tested on a one-to-one anonymous basis. The nurse is available during lunch to give out information about flu shots and blood pressure.

“Having a street nurse here is very helpful: she builds relationships with our clients.”

In 2017, the Salvation Army in Williams Lake served 22,641 meals, handed out 1,290 food hampers from the food bank, and issued 665 Christmas hampers to families.

“For our clients, if you need something like furniture or clothing from the thrift store and it’s not in your budget this month, we can provide vouchers,” she continued. “This service is used every day.”

The Salvation Army will have five Angel Trees this coming Christmas season. Set up at Walmart, Canadian Tire, Winners, Kit and Caboodle, and Realm of Toys, the trees provide an opportunity to provide a gift for a child. Anyone who comes in for a food hamper can register for toys for their children.

“We write these suggestions on a paper angel and they get hung on one of the trees. A shopper chooses an angel, purchases the toy, and leaves it at the customer service counter,” Butt said.

“For me as a parent, the best part of the Angel Tree program is that often my own kids will choose an angel and buy a gift for another child. I know other parents whose kids do that, too. A child gets something for Christmas that they wouldn’t otherwise receive.”

Throughout the year the Salvation Army sets aside a lot of donated socks, scarves, hats, and mittens for its clients to use in the winter.

The Christmas kettle drive is the only fundraiser the Salvation Army holds, running for the month of December.

Butt said she started doing kettles when she was 12 years old. “When you see this changing the lives of volunteers for the better, that’s a ‘God thing.’ We don’t need to get splashy about faith,” she added. “God does all that for us.”

She said they love donations for the food bank and the thrift store and are deeply, eternally grateful for the volunteers who help at the store, in the food bank, and in the kitchen. Volunteers are always welcome, according to Butt, who said that there are kids groups who come for a tour of the food bank and the facilities.

“School classes get to practice putting food hampers together. Some bring food donations on their field trip, and some do a food drive after their tour,” she explained.

“Kids are our future when it comes to supporting the community,” said Butt. “If we don’t start them volunteering and helping when they’re young, we miss a huge opportunity to involve them when they’re older. It’s so important for kids to give back: it helps them make connections as they get older.”

She said there are benefits going both ways. “People find doing a Christmas kettle shift positive and rewarding. I’ve seen such change in people as they do this. It’s a word, a smile, a response, and an amazing connection to your community. You hear snippets of people’s lives and of their stories. That’s why we do it: it’s all about building relationships.

“It means the world to see how much clients appreciate what we do, and knowing we’ve been able to help someone. We all have struggles, and no one is less than the next. Sometimes all it takes is reaching out.

Coming in the door is sometimes the biggest step,” she said. “You’re here, we say, you came. Let’s see how we can help.”

On a personal note, I can say this rings true from the bottom of my heart. A couple of years ago I went through a time of great loss and grief that had me reeling. I looked every day for something that made me ‘sparkle,’ even for a moment: a hug from a child, a satisfying project completed, visits from my kids, and of course, music.

I looked for ways to bring joy to other people; sometimes that helped the most. A friend told me the Salvation Army was in need of volunteers for the Christmas kettle drive, so I put in my name as a volunteer. A nice lady asked me to email her some available time slots I had, so I sent her 12 to choose from. She chose them all! I burst out laughing, and thought, ‘Well, why not?’”

What a gift those shifts were to me. That holiday season went from something I had been dreading to something I will cherish forever. I invited friends to join me at every kettle and we made music. Guitars, ukuleles, and joyous noisy voices: how wonderful!

We interspersed Christmas tunes with Bob Dylan, Creedance Clearwater Revival, Three Dog Night, and The Band. We sang about Rudolph, Frosty, and Whiskey in the Jar. Shoppers danced their carts down the aisle and cashiers sang along.

I found the kettles so beneficial that I also arranged to play music at a local church on Christmas Eve and dish out warm food to people in the park Christmas Day with a wonderful group of volunteers.

Singing and making music lifts your heart and makes you feel better physically, mentally, and emotionally with every note, every phrase, every burst of laughter at the kettles. Because who expects a medley with Bob Segar and “Silent Night”? I could feel my heart lift, my soul grow stronger, and my spirit start to heal.

LeRae Haynes is a freelance writer, song writer, community co-ordinator for Success by 6, member of Perfect Match dance band, and instigator of music with kids.


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