Society's shock troops
by Albert Paschall
As the holidays approach black clad troops seem to dominate street corners on every urban landscape in the nation. Their determination is fierce, their commitment unwavering. Their enemy is any bureaucracy or institution that tolerates irresponsible behavior. Their mission is to inspire hope in those oppressed for generations by their reliance for their very existence on societyís generosity.
ďOur success will depend upon the extent to which we are able to
establish and maintain in the minds of the poor workers sound moral sentiments
and to cultivate a spirit of hopefulness and aspiration.Ē
If this sounds like President Clinton touting the end of welfare as we
know it, its not. It became the motto of the shock troops of social reform in
1877 when William Booth sent his black clad Salvation Army into Londonís
streets to wage a war on poverty.
One legitimately wonders how fierce a French horn can be?
What intimidation is there in a tambourine?
A ringing bell is not exactly a clarion call to arms.
Nevertheless in the last century they have become the most effective
weapons in the battle against povertyís insurgent cycle.
When governments reform welfare they simply stop writing checks making
the Salvation Army the allies of welfare recipients in their constant battle
against despair. In their hardened creed these veterans know that a handout
can win somebodyís heart but an inspiration can capture their imagination.
And the Army succeeds. Occasionally
overwhelmed by unpredictable demand, it manages its resources well and maintains
one of the highest direct service ratios of any charity in the world.
On average 85 cents of every dollar donated to the Salvation Army goes
directly to the disadvantaged. Just
in the Armyís eastern district of Pennsylvania last year more than 287,000
people relied on them for more than $25,000,000 in emergency assistance.
But in its highest ranks you wonít find an officer making much more
than a living and so many of the every day things that most of us take for
granted to them are extraordinary blessings.
Yet the politically correct courts in Ď90s America havenít been good
to the Salvation Army. Judges have
warned shopping centers and storeowners that if you allow one bell ringer in you
might have to allow them all. If a
Salvation Army soldier blows his or her horn in the wrong place, the property
owner can be required to allow anybody with a horn to blow theirs too.
Thatís why in the mall that you shop in or the town square where you go
to see the holiday decorations, Salvation Army workers wave silent bells over
Army officials report that where the bells have been silenced, donations are
down by as much as 50%. Fortunately
in some areas the business community has found other ways to help.
Efforts like Allegheny Countyís highly successful Christmas Kettle
Challenge and Project Bundle-Up have helped offset the losses.
But this Army runs on its money. Judging
by last year thereís 560,000 meals, 150,000 nights of lodging and 61,000
Christmas toys that will need to be paid for in eastern Pennsylvania alone.
It would be our ultimate indignity in this time of abundance if anyone should go hungry because we were stingy. As you begin your holiday shopping look for the soldiers in black waving their silent bells. Remember a time when they were accompanied by horns playing Christmas songs and remember who they are waving them for: those that have nothing. Those that rely on the Salvation Army not only at Thanksgiving but every other day too. Give thanks that you and your family donít need their help and then open your wallet with your heart. The compassion and toughness of the Salvation Army philosophy is our best hope to some day win the war over povertyís despair. Through them you can give the best gift of all, the gift of a better tomorrow.
Albert Paschall is senior commentator for the Lincoln Institute, a non-profit educational foundation in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. ” Calvin-Graham Enterprises 1999. www.lincolninstitute.org.
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