Through its various services, The Salvation Army touches thousands of lives in Southwest Louisiana.
Major David Craddock, who along with his wife, Major Karen Craddock, heads the local operations of The Salvation Army, talked with the American Press about its outreach and impact.
American Press: How many people do you serve at your facility?
Major Craddock: Almost 300 a week for meals. So about 600 meals at least a week, plus the beds in a 36-bed facility so those are kept fairly full every day, plus the people of the community coming in for meals every day. Just that facility alone does that. Then we’ve got the groceries, the clothing that we provide through our family store, the vouchers that we give when it’s available for rent and utility money. I would say on an average week we are probably touching 500 people.
And in terms of a dollar amount in all of those different services, what do you think you distribute in a week’s time?
That would vary depending on the need. I would imagine probably when we look at the number of meals, we’re looking at a couple of hundred dollars per person by the time you take into (account) meals, accommodation, all of the utilities that they use, the showers and laundry and things, clothing given, food baskets given, it would be a couple of hundred dollars per person.
Talk about the facilities that you have on Legion Street.
Our property has a number of different buildings on it. Right at the front of the property you’ll see our worship center with the chapel and youth hall where we do all of the church programs.
At the back of the property is where the day-to-day goes on. We have a large facility which is a lodge. It’s got beds for transients and transitional housing for men. We’ve got a kitchen. We’ve got food storage. And we’ve got a social services office where case work and case management is done. We have a building in the back that is used for AA (Alcoholic Anonymous) meetings throughout the week. And then our food pantry. There is a big workout area with weights and everything for the fellas to work out on and they use the gym area to shoot baskets. And then our disaster warehouse where we store all of our stuff that we use for tornadoes and hurricanes and feeding and all the disaster things and extra storage for stuff like Christmas.
So in a sense, you are always in a mobilization mode if the need arises?
Yes. We have the mobile canteen that’s parked there. It can do about 1,500 meals a day just being prepared out of it because it’s a fully equipped kitchen. That’s always on standby. We use it and try to go out as often as possible to feed in the community so we go to some of the low end and depressed areas and do that. And then when there are things like fires, or as what happened in Alabama, that holdout (standoff) that was going on, or storms or hurricanes, we are ready to mobilize and in about a half an hour we can be on the road.
This community is well aware of The Salvation Army and that mobilization because of Hurricane Rita.
What was surprising with Rita is that when some of the other first responders finally got the roads open, I know going down into Cameron Parish when they finally got the roads open and began to roll down, they found The Salvation Army was already there. They couldn’t figure out how we got there. We had found a way in and our vehicles were already on the scene serving in areas that nobody else could get into.
How has those facilities helped in the Army’s ability to serve this community?
Well, the facility that we have is much better than what we used to have. When they built that shelter that we use now back in 2001 that was really a big jump because we didn’t have proper facilities for the men. We were really trying to work some room for families, which we are still working on and accomplish that. It gave us a better property to work on. And then with the large, expansive grounds that we have, we’re able to put more things in there.
There even things we still want to put in there with possible campaigns, something like a gymnasium because with do youth programs and we don’t have enough space for these youth programs. We rent our family store facilities and we’re debating do we continue to rent or do we try to put something up that would put everything in one area so that people could one-stop shop instead of having to go all over town.
It has enabled us to provide more programs than we used to in the old facilities that we had. And it’s much better as far as what the gentlemen have to use when they are coming in. For most people coming in off the street or having been evicted or having family problems, the last thing they want to do is have a hassle. When they are looking for shelter, the better we can make it for them, the better it is for them.
Have you seen a rise in the number of clients that you are serving?
It goes up and down. It can go up and down with the weather, it certainly goes up and down with the economy. I think we don’t realize how blessed we’ve been here with our economy because we have not been hit as bad as some of the other areas of the country. But we’ve seen people coming in here who are coming from other areas looking for work. And then when they get a shut down of oil fields or companies begin to scale back because of a down time in their business, we find that people who didn’t know how to handle their finances or are living paycheck to paycheck and suddenly certainly find themselves living on the street, we see a big spike in that kind of demand.
Tell me about some of your success stories.
Quite a number of people have ended up being employees of The Salvation Army of people that have come through. They’ve gotten jobs and when we’ve had openings, they’ve come back and applied to work for us because they were so blessed with what they received. My desk staff right now, a couple of them were clients. One of them was a client of mine in Texas and she ended up coming to work for us here. Another one was a client here and he’s now working on the desk. They are able to give back. They learned how to handle their money, they learned how to straighten out those problems in their lives that was causing them those issues. We try to provide them with life skills the best we can and it enables them to get back to being profitable citizens.
Once we do that, for many of them The Salvation Army has become their church home because they started attending and they want to give back so I have a couple of folks on my desk, my thrift store manager was one time a client and now he’s running our store. We have people that are working for us but there are other people in our community that have come through, they got a job and they learned how to handle their money, found their own place and moved on and are now working regular jobs and doing very, very well.
Are the majority of your clients transitional?
The majority are transitional. Many of the transients ones that come in, we give them five days to begin with and within that five days they sit down with a case manager and we find out what the problem was, what issues they’ve had. If they can fit the program, if we feel they can do what the program requires, we will offer them a chance to come into the program, even if they weren’t thinking about it to begin with and they start their job search. We give them 30 days to go out and find employment and start getting checks. At the end of 30 days, they start paying a program fee which helps offset our costs. By that time, most of them have found work and they are getting their check and they are starting to put their money into a back account and showing us that they are saving.
Many of them that will come in as transient will end up in the transitional program. The largest number of beds is the transitional program.
Are most of them are people who are down on their luck?
They come from every kind of problem. We have people who are down on their luck, they’ve lost their jobs and things have really gone bad. We have people who’ve gone through marriage breakouts. We get people who come out of jail who for whatever reason they are in, they have had just a bad turn and they come out trying to get their lives straightened out. We have people who are just the landlord decided they didn’t want them and evicted and then suddenly one day they’ve got a house, the next day they are evicted. It’s all kinds of issues and it’s not all that they are just homeless or that they all couldn’t just handle a job. It’s many different reasons. So we have to tailor the program for them and work with each individual.
How did you get involved in The Salvation Army?
I was born and raised in The Salvation Army. My parents were Salvation Army officers. My grandparents were Salvation Army officers. Both my wife and I can trace our families back to the earliest days of The Salvation Army when it was known as the Christian Mission in England. I describe myself as I was born in it, I was wrapped in The Salvation Army flag at birth and if you cut me, I will bleed yellow, red and blue, the three Army colors.
It’s been a part of our life because we grew up in the church aspect and knew all the social service work that The Salvation Army does. We’re both originally from Canada. My wife’s mother is American and married a Canadian so we’ve had contact with both sides of the border. My grandparents came from England to Canada and moved to the U.S. and worked for The Salvation Army in the U.S. before going back to Canada. So it’s been a way of life for us.
We had to make a choice ourselves to go into ministry. It didn’t automatically happen but we made a choice to go into ministry with The Salvation Army ourselves. It’s that way for us.
At the (recent) conference we heard from other people that came and somebody knocked on their door and invited them to the Sunday School or the Girl Guards or the Venture Corps programs that we run. One fellow was talking about how he had been an alcoholic and one day he just found himself in a line. He didn’t know why he was in that line but he found it was a line to go into to get a meal at The Salvation Army and now he’s serving as a Salvation Army officer. It changes lives.
How have you seen The Salvation Army change over the last 20 or 30 years?
We always have to adapt. We try to keep up with current trends and technology. One thing we will not do is we will not let go of our message or our stand as far as moral issues. But, the Army has had to, as society has changed, as issues have come and gone, we’ve sometimes bend with some of these things as you would as a tree with the wind, and say, yes, we will to a certain point provide.
We’ve always been nondiscriminatory. The Salvation Army has never discriminated and continues to hold that stance. We will not discriminate as far as our services go. Anybody and everybody that needs help gets it.
The things that what’s causing and what people need to know to change. The old days and somebody would come in and needed help and you’d put them to work mopping floors or teach them how to do simple chores and they could go out and do something. Now we have to teach them how to a job search on the computer, how to fill out an electronic resume. There are issues that we face now that we never faced years ago.
There were even times when they came for a meal, they worked for the meal. Nowadays because of regulations and so on, you can’t ask them to do certain things. So, we had to look at how could we make this a learning opportunity for them and still stay within the guidelines that we have to maintain. We find ways to teach them lessons and still get across to them the things they need and still stay within the regulations. There are all kinds of rules and regulations that come and go and we have abide by everything.
Talk about those core principles that The Salvation Army has always maintained.
Because The Salvation Army began its mission as a church, our core principles are based upon the Gospel of Christ and we don’t bend those. We have always looked at what the teachings of Christ are. Jesus did not discriminate. He didn’t say, ‘‘You I’ll help and you I won’t.’’ And we hold that same thing. But there are certain biblical truths for members of The Salvation Army, for those who are actually involved, in the service, that we hold ourselves to and we hold our employees to certain levels. Those things we will not bend.
While society may say it’s right, if God says it’s wrong, The Salvation Army will stand by that. But it will not cause us to discriminate and cause us to say we don’t like your color or we don’t like your practices, we don’t like your beliefs so we won’t help you. If you need help, you get help.
What we believe here and I’ve always made it a position for myself, is I avoid getting government money because there are certain stipulations that we have to abide by and whether we believe it’s a misrepresentation or constitutional, the idea of separation of church and state, if you get government money, you cannot proclaim the Gospel of Christ. So we try in every way possible to avoid that so that we can tell people the best way to change their life is not just get a job or get a back account, it’s to change them, change themselves spiritually. That is one of the very, very core positions that The Salvation Army maintains — the best way to change a person’s life is to change the person through Christ.
What are the myths that the general public has about The Salvation Army?
Those are many. The idea that we are just a social agency, that’s a big one. That we just help drug addicts or alcoholics. That we just sell old clothes. There’s so many of those like that. There’s those who just think that we are a disaster agency. There are people who think we are connected with other agencies and I won’t mention the other agencies because of that, but they seem to believe we’re all one, and yet we are separate entities. There are those who believe we discriminate and that we will not give service to specific portions of society, which is great myth.
I say the biggest way for me to do away with those myths is have somebody come and tour my facility because they will meet people of every kind in there and they very quickly learn that we don’t. But that’s probably one of the biggest myths that we have is that The Salvation Army is a discriminatory group.
The other one is that we beat people over the head with the Bible and that if you don’t believe you’re out. And that again is far from the truth. We’re not going to tell you that you have to believe, but you are certainly going to hear it. You can’t make a choice if you don’t know both sides.
How large of a staff do you have?
We run normally about 19 employees between our family store and our lodge facility.
Is there any volunteer included in that?
Yep. We have volunteers as well who come in. We have many volunteers that come in and help at our store. They’ll sort and they’ll help on the floor with the arranging of product. We have people who come and volunteer at our center. I have a full-time cook but he can’t work seven days a week. So we’re always looking for volunteers who will come in and prepare meals on the off days. We have people who come in and clean. We have people who come in and provide classes, the budget classes or other life skills that are normally all done by volunteers.
Christmas time is our biggest time for volunteers. When we’re doing the bell ringing and the Angel Tree we use a lot of volunteers then and at other times of the year it’s less. Disaster time, volunteer. We train people in the quiet times of the year on how to run our vehicle and how to do disaster work so when it comes, we can pick up the phone and call them and they are ready to roll.
What type of budget do you have?
Just about 800,000 dollars a year.
That’s pretty lean.
I describe myself as cheap, my advisory board describes me as thrifty. We have over the years run deficits. Since I’ve been here we have not had any deficits. We pay our bills and make things go, but we never have enough. That’s always a challenge. But we are also known for being able to stretch a dollar further than anybody else. We know that at least 80 cents of every dollar is going to service, if not more.
Tell me about the Empty Bowl Fundraiser.
The Empty Bowl Fundraiser came about a number of years ago as a way to help us to kind of overcome a deficit time of the year. The idea behind it is a banquet-type meal. We have potters, volunteer potters, who make clay bowls and each bowl is unique, but the idea is that everyone will get one at the end of the night. They come together to sample soups and we have chefs from all over the city providing us with some of their top soups. And people sample soups. But the idea was that for many people a bowl of soup would be a luxury. And for a lot of people all they have is an empty soup bowl. And we need to fill the soup bowl.
People can come and either buy a ticket or sponsor a table. There are different levels of sponsorship that gives them promotions and so on. But they can come and sample soups and listen to some form of entertainment and learn about The Salvation Army. We give them a presentation so they understand what we are doing and why we are doing it. And it’s a way for people to contribute to filling stomachs and filling soup bowls for other people in the community.
It’s a fun night. We always have a lot of fun with it. But it’s an eye-opener when you realize that I can come and I can sample six or eight or 12 soups and there are people that one little bowl of soup that would be a luxury for them.
This year’s Empty Bowl Fundraiser is when?
March the 14th. We use L’Auberge. L’Auberge has been very, very gracious to us over the years. We use the ballroom there.
We have the Dixie Belles who are from New Orleans as the entertainment and my understanding there are some folks who are saying that they are already bringing some of the wounded warriors because of that World War II connection. We look at things like The Salvation Army was there in the trenches in the first (World) War, serving donuts, which is why we have such a love for donuts and we can blame part of our weight problem in America on The Salvation Army.
Of course, we were instrumental in the USO in the second World War. So we have that connection with these people and the warriors with providing that kind of sources. So people said they were going to bring some wounded warriors to the Empty Bowl which is great.
It’s a great opportunity to come and sit and enjoy some great entertainment and have a meal and meet with a lot of folks and support The Salvation Army.
How can individuals or corporations get involved in helping The Salvation Army?
First thing they can do is just call our office at 337-433-4155. If they just call the office, they can ask about the Empty Bowl tickets and they’ll be put through to the bookkeeper. We have different levels of support. Tickets are 100 dollars a seat and there are eight to a table, but we ask sponsors to buy a table for a thousand dollars and they get their name on the table. They are listed under the rank of lieutenant. If they give, 2,500 dollars they are list as a rank of captain. And they get promotion in the flyer and on the screen. Five-thousand would make them a major and 10,000 would make them a general.
It’s great to have that support and we give them all the promotion and advertisement and say these people support us and believe in what The Salvation Army is doing.
The same hold true if they want do more for something other than the Empty Bowl Fundraiser?
If they want to come and volunteer for a day or do some work helping around the center, we have groups that come in sometimes and will do some work on helping to get the property up. We sometimes need some extra work on the property or the building needs repairs or something. They offer to come in and do that kind of thing. They might want to get involved in disaster work. They may want to get involved at Christmas time.
This past year, probably the greatest example of that was Sasol. Sasol has always supported us at Christmas, but all of their new contractors and partners in their expansion wanted to get in on it. And they went from roughly 3,000 dollar support to roughly 16,000 dollar support. They went out and cleaned out a store of bicycles and brought toys. We have people who work with Sasol that came and helped sort toys and packed bags to get things out on distribution day. We have people that come out and just get involved in things that The Salvation Army is doing.
We have youth programs. It’s great to have people that we clear as volunteers who could help teach these kids character-building lessons and do sports and activities like that. There’s always volunteer opportunities and all they have to do is pick up the phone and call.
If not for the volunteers — we are have such a huge impact on society and America as a whole — The Salvation Army has a huge impact on society and yet number wise, internally, we’re small. If not for the 3 million-plus volunteers every year we would not have nearly the impact that we have every year. And we have people believing the message of The Salvation Army, believing that if they give their money to us it’s going to be used properly and wisely, that we will not discriminate, but we will not let down our standards. There are those things that people have a trust in The Salvation Army.
I’ve always said whether they talked about what the Army did for them in the war or whether how they were helped after a fire or somebody came to them at Christmas, I say the biggest problem that I have with what The Salvation Army did 50 years ago, is that I have to live up to that reputation. And it’s always a challenge to live up to what somebody else has set as a level, as a bar to continue to provide that service. It’s a real challenge. ...
Our best testimonies come from the people whose lives we have touched. For many people, they don’t know what The Salvation Army can do for them and will do for them until it’s touched their lives.
If you were to ask people to do a quick poll, how many people over their lives were touched by The Salvation Army in Lake Charles, you would find people who went to one of the Red Shield Clubs when they were young or went to Sunbeams or Girl Guards or Venture Corps, those who had a Christmas gift under their tree from The Salvation Army, those who got a meal from disaster work and they don’t think anything of it until they see that red shield or somebody says something.
I would say more than half the population of Lake Charles has at one point or the other been touched by the service of Salvation Army, whether it was a child or an adult, somebody has been touched and we don’t go out blowing our horn and making a big parade about it, we just go out and do the job.