For the past few years, the holidays have proven to be a very difficult time for many families across America. While Texas has been one of the few states least affected by the economic downturn, it’s citizens are slowly starting to feel the pinch. People are beginning to count pennies and cut extra expenses. Unfortunately, one of the first items that are cut from budgets are charities.

John Queener, the major at the Salvation Army in Orange, said “Our donations over the past twelve months have really dropped off. We really think it’s because of the economy. We are in desperate need for just about any kind of assistance people can afford to give.” The two most critical needs are financial help and food for the Food Pantry.

Of all the clients the Salvation Army in Orange helped in November 2009, 26-percent of them were new. In the first ten days of this November, that figure has jumped to 51-percent.

“We were looking over our recent statistics and we were able to help a good number of people, but we had to say “no” to 560 family units,” Queener said. “We’ve not had that before.”

The Orange facility helps, on average, ten families per day, but has seen as many as 25 families a day for food. “Every day that we’re open, we’re helping somebody with some kind of assistance (rent, food),” he said.

“The hardest part of my job is having to telling somebody ‘no’ because you don’t have the resources,” Queener said. The employees and volunteers have been finding themselves having to turn away more and more people everyday. “We get food from the Food Bank [in Beaumont] when they have food to distribute but they have been running short themselves,” he said.

The Salvation Army in Orange gives a little bit of whatever they have on hand. Their biggest needs are dry goods (macaroni, peanut butter, canned foods, etc).They have some freezer space for those wanting to donate meats but they don’t have a way of keeping fresh vegetables for any length of time. They are in need of toiletry items, baby diapers, formula, baby food and school supplies.

The Salvation Army in Orange has had several donations this year but they are in need of more. When the Food Pantry is fully stocked, the food only lasts a week. The pantry now sits at barely 25-percent full. “We try to give at least three to four days worth of food when [the families] come in,” Queener said. “It’s all based upon what we have that we can give them.”

The Orange facility, unfortunately, does have regular clients that come in need of assistance. Some are seniors that are on a fixed income and some are those who have been laid off and can’t seem to find employment.

It costs between $500,000 and $600,000 per year to operate the Salvation Army facility in Orange. They receive a grant from the U.S government that is less than $10,000 to help with the operations. The United Way has been a much appreciated helping hand in being able to feed the families they can. “We appreciate everything [the United Way], and all the agencies that are members of the United way, do for us,” Queener said.

The Salvation Army in Orange is facing such hard times that the six employees on staff have voluntarily began working 32 hours a week verses 40 hours.

This is a really difficult time of the year because it’s usually the Salvation Army’s big fundraiser for the Christmas effort. All the money that’s raised beyond what it costs to help people at Christmas time goes into their Winter Relief in January and February. “It’s really difficult right now with worry about being able to raise enough money for Christmas time and raise enough money beyond that for the groceries,” Queener said.

Each family that received Christmas assistance will receive a food box and some toys for their children as well. There will be over 400 families receiving Christmas assistance from us this year. The Orange facility will continue to do their regular social services assistance, food and rent, throughout the Christmas season.

“We need a whole lot of volunteers at Christmas time, we always have openings for people to come in and help us bag up the food for our Food Pantry,” Queener said.

While the Salvation Army in Orange is not a licensed shelter, they do stand as a drop-in center when the weather turns bitterly cold and the area is threatened with a freeze. January, the Salvation Army opened it’s doors for seven days and nights to those that needed a warm place to stay. Blankets and food were donated by the community and sleeping cots were donated by the Red Cross. “We are always available for emergencies and disasters,” Queener said.

The Salvation Army also offers after-school care for children for $25 a day. They will be open on Wednesday, Nov. 24 and Friday, Nov. 26 from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. for those parents that need to work and it will cost $10 a day. The Salvation Army generally sees 12 to 14 kids after school each day. They also offer a summer day camp that is open to all children and they see approximately 75 children during the summer. “We could use volunteers in [our children’s programs] but [the volunteers] have to attend a course and have a criminal background check,” Queener said. “We welcome them to do that, but that is a requirement we have to protect our children.”

Major Queener has been associated with the Salvation Army for 51 years. “It was just a place where I felt that God wanted me to be and the reason I do what I do is to help people in need,” he said. “We can only do that through the generosity of the community and God’s grace.”

Those who would like to volunteer are encouraged to call the Salvation Army office. Donations may be dropped off at the Salvation Army. If a company wants to put on a food drive, they would be happy to come and pick it up from the business. For more information, please call 409-883-4232.

About Nicole Gibbs

Editor of The Record Newspapers