Woman thankful for Salvation Army assistance gives back to church, charitable organization

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Shelly Birkelo
Thursday, November 7, 2013

JANESVILLE—When Barbara Nelson was lonely and down in the dumps, she turned to the Janesville Salvation Army for help.

She was connected with a caseworker.

"We talked, I got a few things out, and she prayed with me. I felt a whole lot better," said the 56-year-old single mom of two adult daughters.

A week later, Nelson met Maj. Ruth Fay, who explained Salvation Army programs and services where Nelson could interact with people. A couple interning at the Salvation Army over the summer visited Nelson in her home. Nelson began attending church at the Salvation Army, where she now volunteers.

This Thanksgiving season, Nelson, who also is a cancer survivor, feels blessed to be associated with the local church and social services agency.

"I'm thankful for my health, good friends and being able to give back. I'm happy I'm helping and enjoy making a difference," she said.

The Salvation Army has served more people each of the past three years and expects to serve even more this year.

"We have a small base staff, so our army of volunteers makes us be able to do what we can do," Fay said.

Three years ago, when the Fays arrived to lead the local Salvation Army, 149 people attended its free Thanksgiving community meal. That number grew to 249 in 2011 and swelled to more than 400 in 2012.

"We're expecting more people than ever to ask for help this Thanksgiving," Fay said.

They include the poor and homeless who are hungry, working poor families who are barely able to keep ahead of bills and senior citizens who are living on fixed incomes and choosing between buying food or prescriptions, she said.

"More people are accessing our food pantry more often, and there are more new people (seeking services), which is reflective of the economy," Fay said.

Caseworker Anne Walli said there's always a need, but she agreed the need is greater this year.

"We're seeing a lot of new people utilizing services," she said.

That's why donations of turkeys, desserts and money to prepare a traditional meal for the Salvation Army's Thanksgiving Family Day are needed, the women said.

"It's (free) fellowship for family and community with an event atmosphere and not just for those who have a financial need. We don't want anybody sitting home alone," Fay said.

Nelson knows how important it is to have others around who care and offer support. That's why she spends as much time as she can at the Salvation Army. She volunteers two days a week for the after-school program and provides child care Monday nights in the nursery. She has helped with the Christmas mailings, in the kitchen, the neighborhood party and the fall festival and is in the process of becoming a volunteer driver.

"Today I'm connected and a lot happier than sitting at home by myself,” she said.

“I've made a lot of friends and have a better outlook on life."

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