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Stirring up memories


Spreading holiday cheer
December 5, 2007

A long, long time ago in a far-away city named London, a 20-year-old man named William peered out his window into a dreary dark night, dreading his first Christmas in this busy but lonely city.

He had left his home in the town of Sneinton to move to the city. He had been homeless, jobless and just about friendless. Now, things were getting a little better. He had found a place to stay, he had also found a job doing what he'd done back home before he was laid off. He hated it. He worked in a pawnshop.

If William's life seemed bleak, it was very much better than the lives of the desperate customers he dealt with every day. Their stories broke his heart. He yearned to help every one of them. He also ached to preach to them, to tell them the good news of the Christian faith.

On that lonely night—tomorrow evening it will be exactly 158 years in the past—Dec. 6, 1849—he made some promises to himself. He wrote out a set of resolutions: early every morning he promised to pray and then read the Bible. He would "avoid babbling and idle talking," and instead try his best to help people to "think of their immortal souls." For himself, he would always "seek after holiness of heart."

The young man's full name was William Booth. He kept his promise.

Soon, he was able to leave the hated job to preach full time. He married and, with his wife, established a group that both spread the Good News and brought comfort and joy to people around the world. Always Christmas was an important day. The family didn't spend the day comfortable at home. Instead, they went out to spread the holiday joy to those who were in need.

Thirty years after that bleak December night, William and his family had fulfilled his dreams. He was the leader of a full-fledged religious and rescue movement known as The Christian Mission. One spring morning in 1878, William leaned over the shoulder of his grown son, Bramwell, who worked for the organization. He read what his son had written, "The Christian Mission under the superintendence of the Reverend William Booth is a volunteer army recruited from amongst the multitudes who are without God."

William seized a pen and crossed out the word volunteer replacing it with salvation. That day the Salvation Army received the name that now rings familiar around the world.

It was, and is, an organization on the move. It grew in numbers and continued to change locations until one afternoon when William and Bramwell strolled along Victoria Avenue, a brand new thoroughfare leading from the Thames River right to St. Paul's Cathedral. They notice a "to let" sign on a former Masonic Temple across the street. They crossed and peeked in the windows. Shortly, the Salvation Army had its permanent home. The move involved two vans and the use of a handcart.

In 1941, the premise was destroyed during the bombing of the city; on Nov. 13, 1963, Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, presided at the reopening of 101 Victoria, the World Headquarters of the Salvation Army.

This past October, when Bob and I visited our son, Patrick, in London, we were strolling along Victoria Avenue, like William and Bramwell. We were headed for St. Paul's and looking to grab a bite of lunch first, when we noticed an interesting, fairly crowded place, "Café 101" that promised pastries, sandwiches and more. Plus, an examination of the menu indicated reasonable prices. That is something that just doesn't happen these days to visitors to London from the United States. In we went.

As we enjoyed our ample salads, we quickly realized we were not in any ordinary pub. Many of our fellow diners wore uniforms—Salvation Army uniforms. We had happened upon their own employee dining room—one that welcomes all, just as all activities of the Salvation Army do. After lunch, we took a quick tour of the ground floor, picked up a few publications and learned a lot!

When we got back to Bainbridge, I continued to learn, because the Salvation Army is here!

I called local director Melanie Harrell to learn more. I picked exactly the right time—the right season, because they are mighty busy over there at 400 S. Scott St. and have been since 1994 when a local board got itself organized.

Dewey Robinson was the founding chair; he continues to serve.

The Salvation Army reaches out to Decatur, Seminole and Miller counties—and beyond. The Disaster Relief Vehicle, known as the Canteen, responds to disasters. Most recently, volunteers have accompanied it to areas devastated by Hurricane Katrina, the tornadoes in Americus and the recent wildfires in east Georgia.

All year long, the Salvation Army is busy helping nearby families and individuals who need clothing, food and emergency financial assistance. (If you need help with something like this, go by between 9 a.m. and noon.) Also, they are there providing all of us with bargains in the Salvation Army Thrift Store Monday to Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (I picked up a dandy crib once when I was preparing for a new grandson's first visit.)

It is holiday time when they get really, really busy. This year, they began by providing Thanksgiving dinner for shut-ins and the elderly in cooperation with volunteers at the First United Methodist Church. Also, registrations began in November for families in need of toys and food. They will be busy all of December doing both collections and distributions.

My chat with Melanie yielded a marvelous holiday recipe as well. The ingredients for this delightful and satisfying spread are variable. The recipe can be doubled, tripled, even quadrupled. In fact, this is the rare case where there is never too much of a good thing.

Holiday happiness spread
3 good items from your household (especially toys, blankets, and winter coats)
3 items of staple or canned food (more makes it better)
3 unwrapped new toys
3 or more new one dollar bills

  1. Drive to the Salvation Army Thrift Store, go around in the back and drop off the first two ingredients. It is essential that you do this only during store hours.

  2. Proceed to a Toys for Tots drop off point such as Goin' Postal, The Post-Searchlight or The Book Nook and deposit the toys.

  3. Add Christmas seasonings of new dollar bills to suit your taste to a Salvation Army Red Kettle whenever you spot one. Watch for kettles at Kmart, Wal-Mart, Winn-Dixie, Belk, Sears, Harvey's and Dollar General.

  4. To make this spread even richer as part of step 1, go into the Thrift Store and do some shopping for yourself or for gifts.

Consider being a bellringer yourself. (This is fun, fun, fun.) Call Shari Griffin or Melanie Harrell at 243-7250.

Spice up the season by writing a check and dropping it in a kettle or by the store.

Serve by spreading joy all over the place!

Post-script: My information on William Booth comes from a Salvation Army publication, "With Booth in London." For more information about the Salvation Army around the world, visit its website and to learn more about our local organization (and maybe to volunteer yourself or your money) drop by the Thrift Store on Scott Street.

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Trilla Pando is a member of the Southern Foodways Alliance & the Story Circle Network