By Evan Casey
You may have driven past one of the many Salvation Army thrift stores, community centers or rehab centers across the area because they’re hard to miss these days. However, many people do not know the story behind their beginnings, their mission or their history of diversity.
The Salvation Army first began in London in 1865 with the purpose of sharing the Christian faith with people “who were not willing to attend – or even welcomed into – a traditional church,” according to their website. In just 10 years, the organization, then called “The Christian Mission,” had over 1,000 volunteers and followers. The Salvation Army quickly spread to other countries, coming to the United States in 1880.
At its core, the Salvation Army works directly within communities to build local programs designed to offer immediate relief, short-term care and long-term growth. They do this through offering rehab programs, food drives and shelter for the homeless, among other things.
Major Steven Merritt, the Divisional Commander of the Wisconsin and Upper Michigan territory of the Salvation Army, knows that there is much more work to do.
“Our main mission is to preach the gospel and meet human needs without discrimination,” said Merritt.
“It doesn’t matter who you are or where you live. The Salvation Army is here to serve the community.”
Throughout the year, Salvation Army has been doing just that. Last summer, the organization gave away nearly 70,000 meals to Milwaukee Public School students in Milwaukee through the Feed The Kids program. Over 1,500 people were able to use their Emergency Lodge, a 24-hour shelter designed to help the homeless. Salvation Army was also able to provide a six-month rehab program where individuals gain work therapy.
The Salvation Army also has had a great relationship with the Black community, preaching a message of love and acceptance for all individuals. Frank Smith, the Salvation Army Commissioner in the 1880’s, denounced the color line from his position of leadership.
The Salvation Army, Smith said, “must be among the first Christian communities of America who will faithfully and wholly break down the wall of partition separating the white from the colored.”
Booker T. Washington even praised the Army, saying “I have always had the greatest respect for the work of The Salvation Army, especially because I have noted that it draws no color line in religion.”
Merritt knows that the Salvation Army’s mission is not yet complete.