On another folding table, bags the Cottons filled with an assortment of food were ready for clients of Salvation Army who will be making their way to the food pantry for help.
May 14-20 was National Salvation Army Week, a special period in which to remember an organization that set down roots in 1865 in London and spread across the world. But while many people think of the organization as a social service agency, it is a church first, said Capt. Bert Lind — a church that took on a militaristic name and infrastructure to preach to people.
“We do everything in the name of Jesus Christ,” said Lind, commanding officer of the local organization. “We do not preach to them in the expectation they will join our church.”
The Salvation Army has 7,300 corps throughout the United States. Each one has a number of soldiers, adult members and junior soldiers, children, in its membership. Worldwide, the Salvation Army has more than 1 million soldiers in its ranks.
The Salvation Army Corps in Anniston has a service each Sunday at its building on Fourth Street in the same area as its other buildings. Around 35 to 40 people, on average, attend the 11 a.m. service each week, Lind said.
“We have normal church activities; we have Sunday school and morning worship service,” he said.
Army Camp: The local Salvation Army sends 15-20 kids to camp each summer. Spots are still available for this year’s program. Parents can apply at the office or by phone at 256-236-5643. The Salvation Army also takes donations to sponsor children at camp; the cost is $200 a week.
The church, which was begun by Methodist minister William Booth, follows the Wesleyan tradition but is not a Methodist church. The people who worship at the Salvation Army are considered Salvationists, Lind said.
The Cottons are two of hundreds of volunteers and 13 employees who keep the local Salvation Army working and serving thousands of people in Calhoun and Cleburne counties each year. Some volunteers come in just once, others sporadically, and a few, like the Cottons, come in regularly, Lind said.
The Cottons have been volunteering at the food pantry for about 18 months — Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. — ever since hard times brought them to the Salvation Army looking for help.
“We started out coming just two days a week,” Wayne Cotton said.
“Couldn’t keep up with the donations,” his wife finished.
Wayne Cotton is disabled. Mary Ellen, a certified nursing assistant, has been unemployed for two years. They came to the Salvation Army one day for help and found a new calling.
“We didn’t have anything in the refrigerator,” Wayne said. “Well, they helped us out. We can help other people.”
The organization offers emergency shelters for men, women and children, as well as social workers to help the clients get themselves out of the situations that brought them there.
Case manager Ann Chesser helps with emergency assistance for clients. “The work at the Salvation Army is where I feel more at home,” she said. “If someone comes in and needs prayer, I can sit and pray with them and it doesn’t detract from my work; it’s part of it.”
Until the recent closing of its thrift store on McClellan Boulevard, the local Salvation Army had been running two thrift stores in Anniston; now it’s back down to the single main store on Noble Street, which will expand its hours to 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Saturday.
The store helps fund a six-month, residential men’s addiction rehabilitation program. The program has 25 beds and a waiting list of clients, Lind said.
“There is a definite need in this community,” he said. “Every day we get letters and requests for entry into the program.”
Volunteer Patricia Owens started working at the McClellan thrift store in December and will transfer to the Noble Street store. She retired from Jacksonville State University and quit a job at the Anniston Army Depot to work at the store.
She said she’s been surprised by the people she’s met — surprised by how nice they are. It’s helped her overcome some stereotypes she believed about the poor. And she’s proud that the money she helps earn for the Salvation Army goes to help feed and clothe people and even help them overcome addiction.
“These people aren’t like people think,” Owens said. “They’ve made mistakes and they’re paying for it. At least now they’re trying.”
Star staff writer Laura Camper: 256-235-3545.