Thanksgiving is coming up, and then it will be time for the red kettle-minders to start ringing their bells outside storefronts, collecting funds to keep people from hunger and want.
On Thursday night, the Williamsport Salvation Army gave thanks for its corps of volunteers who ring those bells, among many other tasks needed to "do the most good."
About 50 volunteers were provided a meal, though the Army only expected to have cookies and coffee at their recognition evening - a gift of several turkeys were recently made to the Army, and the folks at Acme Barbecue whipped up some turkey soup and turkey casserole and turkey barbecue and turkey barbecue quesadilla casserole.
The hot meal, simple and filling and provided by grace, was one like the many the Army's volunteers provide at its Market Street headquarters, along with its food bank. They also work with Toys for Tots, visit nursing homes and have youth programs, and fund their endeavors through their thrift shop, which is in the process of relocating, and the annual Festival of Trees fundraiser, when decorated trees are auctioned off at the mall.
The trees have raised more than $120,000 over the past 10 years, Capt. Chas Engel told the crowd.
Patting themselves on the back wasn't the focus of the evening, though. Keynote speaker Major Andrew Murray, who, with his wife Beckie, will be leaving their church of 11 years in Philadelphia for a three-year stint in Johannesburg, South Africa, exhorted the volunteers present to do more for the good.
"I was in line at Dunkin Donuts and the guy behind the counter looked at me and said what's with the uniform? This happens a lot," Murray said. "People ask 'are you from the Sheridan Hotel, from Singer Sewing, are you a pilot? You say, 'no we're from the Salvation Army,' and they say 'oh, yes.' This has never happened before - he said, 'what's that?' 'Who is the Salvation Army?' That's a great question. I can tell you in Williamsport, the Salvation Army is not the Engels - they might be the people appointed now to run it. It's all of us here together, isn't it? We make the Salvation Army what it is. All the good that happens, and sometimes, all the good that doesn't happen, happens because of us. We either make the Salvation Army in Williamsport an amazing thing or we don't."
Murray continued, his voice echoing throughout the gym:
"In Philadelphia for the last 11 years, I often thought, 'gee, if only the Army was doing, this. And I had to think to myself, 'what can I do to make it happen?' We can make Williamsport a better place. My friends, we have to make Williamsport a better place. There is someone you know who is not doing but could. You can invite them to come and make a difference."
John Manley attended the dinner. He works at the Pepsi bottling plant in the city. In 2002, he lost his job right before Christmas, and the Salvation Army gave him a basket of food and toys for his kids.
"We want to fill a whole trailer for Toys for Tots this year," Manley said. "We do burger burns every two weeks (at Pepsi), and all money goes to Toys for Tots. We get to go spend the money and buy all the nice toys and such. You don't know what it's like to see a little kid wake up for Christmas and his parents don't have no money to buy him one present. When he sees one thing under the tree, he's so happy that he got something."