Publisher’s notebook: Keeping the faith at Salvation Army

OBSERVER Photo Running the Salvation Army in Dunkirk has been a special calling for the Lt. Samantha Lockard and this community.

Even when looking over one of the bleakest of spreadsheets, Lt. Samantha Lockard never loses her optimism. As leader of the Salvation Army location in Dunkirk, she remains upbeat in driving the mission of the agency she represents while making sure as many as possible are being helped.

Christmas is 10 days away — and it’s usually the time when the Salvation Army has its brightest of spotlights due to the annual Red Kettle Campaign.

But that all-too-empty spreadsheet Lockard overlooks notes volunteer hours for bell ringers. On Wednesday of this week, only 53 of the 80 hours were being covered. That, unfortunately, is a minor success compared to who is on the list for the final seven days.

“The last week is even worse,” she said. “There’s almost no one scheduled.”

Adding to Lockard’s dilemma has been the changing weather conditions.

On Tuesday, due to the winter storm warning, she decided against sending volunteers out to ring the bell and collect cash.

But time is running out — and the kettle campaign, which ends Dec. 23, is at about half of its goal of $60,000. This does not affect families and individuals at Christmas, but it could take a toll on what the organization can accomplish in 2018.

This, by far, has not been Lockard’s greatest challenge since taking the helm.

A native of Mifflinville, Pa., in the Pocono Mountains, she began overseeing the Dunkirk operation in February 2016. At that time, she was attempting to overcome a community belief that the agency was restructuring its efforts in the north county. Much of that perception of backing away came from the Salvation Army itself in 2014 when it announced in a press release it was considering a different model for the city location at Seventh Street and Central Avenue.

But Lockard’s willpower, support of the volunteers and her team at the facility, as well as her faith in God, have brought amazing results in 23 months. In terms of community service alone, she notes the organization is touching close to 1,000 residents in the region monthly.

Most of those receiving aid come from the city, which has a poverty rate of more than 28 percent, according to the latest U.S. Census figures. But that can be misleading.

A closer look at just how Dunkirk fares economically can be found in the school report cards, which are put together by the state Education Department. The most recent data finds 73 percent of those attending in the district are economically disadvantaged, which means all students are eligible for free lunches at the schools.

On Thursday morning, a delivery from the Food Bank of Western New York arrived around 9 at the facility. This food goes toward recipients of the Salvation Army food pantry, which has seen an increase in participants since July. In November, 173 families and 485 individuals took part in the program. Lockard says of those numbers, 137 families were new to the program.

“Most of our clients, we don’t see them for a couple months because they only come when they really need it,” she said. “That’s been a huge blessing. It restores faith in a system and you see that it’s a community that needs help and that’s just not using and abusing a free handout.”

Youth also are being assisted on a daily basis through the after-school program and basketball events that take place Monday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings. “They’re not the honor students. They’re not the ones in all of the clubs but they still have a belonging within them that needs to be filled,” Lockard said. “They find that here.”

With the assistance of Sixto Rosario, the basketball program continues to be one of the organization’s centerpieces. It brings in teams from Fredonia, Ripley and the Northern Chautauqua Catholic Schools. It also brings in parents and family as spectators to the tight and cozy gymnasium.

Besides the kettle campaign, many associate the Thrift Store on Lake Shore Drive with the service sector of the organization. Lockard notes the local facility, however, receives no funds from sales at that location. Instead, the store is a source of income for rehabilitation centers across the nation. “That money allows the Salvation Army to send individuals to a long-term drug or alcohol rehab for free,” she said.

That’s why the kettle campaign remains such a huge deal for the Salvation Army’s local presence. With time winding down — and volunteers still needed — next year’s programming could be in question. “When we’re short we then have to evaluate what we can and cannot do. … We really rely on donations,” Lockard said, noting those who want to help can call 366-3701. “Whatever the community donates to us then we can give back.”

And, even in the midst of what some would consider a crisis, Lockard keeps the faith. “I need $30,000 to make my budget balance, but that’s not my focus. My focus is just doing my best and allowing God to bless us. … He has blessed us above and beyond with our Christmas toys. We’re able to give the kids more toys this year … God’s going to give us what we need and we’re going to make it work.”

John D’Agostino is the OBSERVER publisher. Send comments to jdagostino@observertoday.com or call 366-3000, ext. 401.

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