The Salvation Army is known world wide for its charitable acts for those in need. The Pekin Salvation Army dates back to the 1890s.
What is provided
The Pekin office offers a wide variety of services to those in need — a food pantry, homeless shelter, day care center for low income people, utility and rent assistance, and Christmas toys and food.
“Every Salvation Army is different because every community has different needs,” said Salvation Army Capt. Martin Thies. “It is not our desire to reinvent the wheel.
“If there is no need in the community for a program, that is great. But I have never been in a community where there was no need.”
The Pekin Salvation Army is unique in that it has a transition center for the homeless — not just a place for them to sleep overnight to come in from the cold. The center opened in 2002 after the community did a study of homelessness in Tazewell County.
Thies said the founders of the center had great forethought in that they wanted the center to be more than just a soup kitchen and stopover for the night. He said people need the chance to get on their feet so they can end their homeless state. Center staff interviews new clients and asks them how long they believe they will need to stay. Thies said they always tell the client to expect to stay at least another one or two months so they can put away funds to really make it when they move out.
“That way if something big happens and the transmission falls out of the car they won’t be homeless again because they had to pay out unexpected funds,” said Thies.
Homeless people can stay at the center for up to two years, during which time they are expected to work if they have a job or look for work if they do not. The family is expected to save money to pay first and last month’s rent, pay any deposits on an apartment or utilities and pay for transportation to and from work.
In 2011 alone, the center provided 9,459 nights of lodging for individuals.
“The transitional center is an example of what can be accomplished when a whole community gets together, says here’s a need and then meets it,” said Thies. He said the transitional center is unique. Other Salvation Army facility’s have soup kitchens and shelters where people spend the night.
The Salvation Army’s other programs are as busy as the transitional center. The day care provided 5,190 days of care for low income children. The food pantry provided food to 1,403 families.
Thies said the “soldiers” in his congregation are his eyes and ears into the needs of the community.
The cost of all of the services in 2011 was $701,999, which does not include administrative costs, facility upkeep or fundraising expenses.
Community donations were $323,103, which did not include service fees, public funds and other grants. The Salvation Army receives government grants to help with rental assistance and utility assistance, but that money does not cover all of the need, said Thies.
A life of service
Thies and his wife, Shannon Thies, could have chosen any career path and financial prosperity as the guiding force in their lives.
But, like all other Salvation Army officers, they didn’t. They instead chose a life of service to God and their fellow man — both in 2005.
“I am an officer in the Salvation Army because God called,” said Martin Thies. “If I lived in a normal world I would have a doctorate in music and work at a university, but if God calls you can’t ignore that.
“This work is very rewarding, maybe not monetarily, but in its love of God and love of people. We both care because we love God. I don’t think anyone wakes up and says ‘Being a Salvation Army officer would be a great career path.’ They would fail miserably. You have to be called by God to do this work. Our goal is to expand the kingdom of God and be faithful in his service.”
Thies said that if there is a need in Pekin right now that needs to be addressed to make services better it would be the organization of all of the food pantries.
“They need to work together to meet the legitimate needs of the community,” said Thies. “The churches have pantries and give food to whoever comes.
“The Salvation Army has been doing this for a long time and has a good perception and the discretion to help or not. We are stewards of the public funds.”
Thies also wants to form “The Pathway of Hope.”
The Pathway of Hope will focus on team building with other organizations and agencies.
For instance, if an individual comes to the Salvation Army for help who is trying to go to college or get their GED, said Thies, the agencies would “be more aggressive in helping those who wish to be self-sustaining. That doesn’t mean we would not help all who come.”
The program would help clients set and meet their goals.
“If there were a 10-year plan for Pekin that’s what I would do,” he said. “It’s not that (the agencies) don’t work together, but we are not always on the same page when it comes to helping clients.