By Brandon Martin
As Christmas draws closer each year, the sight of bright red pails accompanied by the sound of ringing bells prompts many shoppers to donate their spare change to Salvation Army workers stationed outside of local stores.
While the Salvation Army is most visible during the holiday season, their work doesn’t cease on Dec. 24.
“Need knows no season,” said Lt. Bradly Mumford, corps officer at the Salvation Army in Martinsville. “What’s really interesting, yet alarming, is the fact that after December and Christmas, we will perhaps be able to take a breather and enjoy the scenery but there are going to be a lot of people that we serve where it’s just going to be another day for them.”
Mumford said the stress of the holidays continues for most people.
“There’s going to be knocks at the door the first of the year. The need is going to continue to come and we want to help while we can,” Mumford said.
He and his wife, Ashley, have been corps officers for the local Salvation Army for the past year and a half.
The center, located at 603 S. Memorial Boulevard in Martinsville, serves the City of Martinsville and Henry and Patrick counties. It has been in operation for more than 80 years, according to Mumford. Still, each day brings a new challenge.
“A typical day begins as soon as our staff enters the door at 8:30 in the morning and the phones start going off,” Bradly Mumford said. “We just get a lot of phone calls of people who are in need or are wanting to donate to help make a difference. Essentially, that phone is the biggest component of who we are. Every time we pick it up, we never know what that need is going to be but nonetheless it’s going to be a need.”
Besides Bradly and Ashley Mumford, two part-time staff members work to address needs each day.
“It’s really hard to sometimes meet all of the needs that are expected of us,” he said. “We make it happen. We’ve got wonderful staff. They believe in putting the mission first above themselves.”
That mission involves a lot more than collecting donations during the annual Red Kettle Campaign.
Throughout the year, the Salvation Army provides hot meals every Wednesday and Friday. Until the kettle campaign began, Bradly Mumford said his team averaged about 100 meals each of those two days. Meals are now only offered on Wednesdays.
“Every Wednesday, you can come to the Salvation Army between the hours of 12 and 1 p.m., and receive up to four hot meals per household,” he said. “These are very nutritious meals and great quality food. Our volunteers cook them in the kitchen, and we do what is called a mobile feeding. The individuals will drive up, they stay in their vehicle, and volunteers will pass them plates of food that are pre-packaged.”
Families in need can also get food from the Salvation Army on Thursdays through their walk-in pantry.
“We have this gracious, large donation of food and we didn’t know what we were going to do with it,” Bradly Mumford said. “Luckily, the Lord inspired us to open our doors to the community once a week and allow them to shop for light groceries.”
The program, called “Thank God, it’s Thursday,” was “very successful,” he said.
“During the pandemic, we saw more hunger needs,” Ashley Mumford said. “We were seeing about 50 people a week for the food pantry. For us, we saw a lot of people that couldn’t afford what was at” some retail stores “and fortunately we were able to kind of subsidize that.”
The pantry will reopen on Jan. 14.
“We like emphasizing ‘emergency’ because we want to emphasize the word crisis,” Bradly Mumford said. “This is not just a social service type program where we get funding throughout the whole year. We must battle for our funding. Basically, we offer emergency assistance with lighting and rental needs.”
This service was especially valuable during the economic strain caused by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
“Once power companies and rental landlords were issuing cut-off notices, we started noticing a lot of people with $1,000 light bills because they hadn’t been able to pay because they hadn’t been able to work,” Ashley Mumford said. “Most of our social services were for new people who had never been out of work before and never had to ask for help.”
“We also offer hotel vouchers,” Bradley Mumford said of the vouchers that help provide shelter for those struggling with homelessness.
“We are able to help combat that,” he said. “We have a partnership with the Econo Lodge, and we can put them up for about 3 to 4 nights.”
Ashley Mumford said individuals must meet certain criteria to receive the vouchers.
“They have to be seen through Grace Network or through STEP (Solutions That Empower People, Inc.),” she said. “That is the main credential. STEP is a huge homelessness organization. They screen them a little bit harder than we would be able to because they have more staff.”
Those in need of support services are invited to schedule an appointment with the local office. Their hours are Tuesday-Friday from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m.
The Mumfords also work to serve their community on Sunday; albeit, in a slightly different manner.
“On Sunday morning, there is a different kind of need. My wife and I are pastors as well,” Bradly Mumford said. “We have to suit up once more and we preach and share the gospel of Jesus Christ on Sunday morning. It’s all week long, meeting needs of different kinds.”
Due to the extra stresses brought about by the pandemic, the Salvation Army has almost depleted their funds for the year.
“As of right now, our funding is extremely low. I would almost dare say that we’ve almost tapped out our funding,” Bradly Mumford said. “As of March, we’ve already helped about 30 people who were affected by COVID. We are talking about people of all stature. People that were making a decent wage and next thing you know they wake up and they don’t have a job anymore. The bills start racking up. Those are the types of stories you see coming through your door.”
While the pandemic has brought cloudy days for some, Bradly Mumford prefers to search for a silver lining.
“They say that 2020 is one of the worst years that we’ve ever had, but it’s relative, I think,” he said. “It’s a matter of perspective and how you look at it. It’s certainly had its downfalls but to the best of my knowledge, we haven’t had a pandemic in over 100 years, so it obviously has a lot of people in frenzy. But there have also been a lot of hidden blessings that have come our way. We’ve been able to shine the light into the darkness by acts of service to our fellow brothers and sisters.”
He told the story of one individual who was working on community service hours through the organization before COVID-19 tragically took her father.
“She was in a frenzy because she thought she was going to lose out and lose her hours,” he said.
By reworking the schedule to allow for some grieving time, Bradly Mumford said she was able to finish her hours.
“The success of that story is that because she did such a fantastic job, we were able to provide seasonal employment for her as a bell ringer,” he added. “She’s very lively, very animated. She’s bringing joy to others now and it’s kind of her paying it forward. The money that is going in that red kettle is going to help the relief of COVID victims so now she is in a position where she can pay it forward. That’s a win for us. That’s a success story. That’s the most rewarding part about what my wife and I do.”
The community also can tap into that feeling by getting involved.
“I want to emphasize that there are never enough volunteers,” Bradly Mumford said. “We need volunteers for bell ringing, we need volunteers for our soup kitchen, and we need them for other means as well. The main part besides volunteering is financial contributions. You wouldn’t believe what your money is able to do here at the Salvation Army.”
The goal for the kettle campaign is $50,000 this year, according to Bradly Mumford.
“The money that is generated goes 100 percent back into our streamline programs like emergency social services,” he said. “It also helps pay the payroll for our staff. It helps sustain us for a couple more months down the road. It’s so important for the Salvation Army to raise not only $50,000, but more because we need to be able to propel ourselves into the year 2021 and be able to sustain this operation.”
Those wishing to contribute may send donations to The Salvation Army at P.O. Box 551, Martinsville, Va., 24114.
“That assures them that they don’t have to go through a letter or a second party,” he said. “That’s a direct hit to us that comes within two days.”
“The other thing that they can do during the Christmas season is Angel Tree,” Ashley Mumford said. “We have a tree at the Patrick County Wal-Mart and a tree at the Martinsville Wal-Mart. They can go pick a child off the tree and shop for that child. That is a huge thing.”
Due to stricter patronage guidelines in most shopping centers, a lot of the angels have yet to be taken this year.
“We have about 150 angels that have not yet gone out just because businesses aren’t as open due to COVID,” she said. “We have about 500 kids in total.”
“The need is new toys,” Bradly Mumford said. “What good is it to try and make it a memorable Christmas with a used toy that is chipped or broken.”
In addition to Angel Tree contributions, toys were also donated by Widows for Christ in Reidsville, N.C.
“We try to give every kid at least three toys. If a kid comes in and only has a couple of toys from the Angel Tree, we can supplement with what we have,” Ashley Mumford said. “Our toys just might not be exactly what the kid asked for.”
Bradley Mumford estimated that Angel Tree contributions are approximately 50 percent of their end goal.
The last day to bring by toys for the Angel Tree is Dec. 11, with distribution set to take place Dec. 21 at the Salvation Army, as a mobile distribution. Individuals remain in their vehicles as “volunteers load them up for a Merry Christmas,” Bradley Mumford said.