With donations down and needs up, the local chapter of The Salvation Army feels pinched this holiday season.
The army's community center in Pendleton provides three meals a day, emergency shelter for those without a home or place to stay, church services and drug and alcohol recovery services. And it provides food and toys for families in need at Christmas time.
But this year, Capt. Don Shepherd is worried hundreds of people in Umatilla County will go without a Christmas. He said the army is in "dire need" of fresh apples and celery, cream soups and canned meats and toys for teenagers. While the local chapter's headquarters are based in Pendleton, the outfit helps residents in Milton-Freewater, Pendleton and Hermiston. And the bulk of the families in need - more than half - are in the Hermiston area.
In all, the army is trying to provide goods to 300 families and 30 couples, and time is running out.
"We're half way there and we have less than a week," Shepherd said, referring to how well donations have gone this year.
Through Dec. 9, the army's red kettles brought in $19,805.06. Last year, however, through the same period those kettles brought in $27,678.01, a difference of nearly $7,900.
"If you don't hear about us, it means we're doing out job ... But we're at crunch time and we don't have enough," he said.
The captain comes off as an sincere about the situation. But then he understands the hard economic reality of the region. Fleetwood cut dozens of jobs, and he sees that translate into fewer people making money to put in the kettles and to give donations. At the same time, it means there are more families in the region that need assistance.
"It's pretty tough when you see a family come in ... and some of them have never needed help before," Shepherd said. "And I don't want to see anybody go without."
The army is working hard to make sure that doesn't happen. Shepherd explained the army collects information of families and people in need. It receives references for assistance from school districts, family services organizations and agencies, as well as direct inquiries. It also networks with other "toy and joy shops" - including Peace Lutheran Church, St. Mary's Catholic Church in Pendleton and CAPECO - to see who has received help and who hasn't.
From there the army lines up donors with those in need. The army keeps names and address confidential, while providing generalized information, such as how many people are in a family, what the ages are, and what might they want or need.
Those kinds of donors come in daily. Friday afternoon a tall woman in her 40s with darker hair came into the center carrying bags and gifts meant for two families. Shepherd check over what she has and sees that it synchs with the cards outlining the needs. He thanked her and blessed her.
Like the recipients of her donations, she preferred her anonymity. But she said doing this gives her the opportunity to help someone.
Shepherd undoubtedly would like to see more people like her in the days ahead, or like the members of the Good Sam's Club, who came there Friday morning and helped sort boxes of canned goods for distribution in Hermiston. Pendleton High School gave the goods to the army and St. Mary's, and Good Sam's Club members took several large pickup loads westward.
"They're a big help every year," Shepherd said. "We couldn't do it without them."
His wife, Martha, also a captain for The Salvation Army, hustles about from one duty to the next at the center. She stops for a moment, considering what kinds of toys would make a difference.
"I'd like to have a hundred basketballs," she said. "They're good teenage boy gifts."
She leaves, and again Shepherd goes to the front doors. A man in a cowboy hat and blue jeans said his wife has loaded up a bag of goods. Shepherd heads out the door with him and brings it inside. He thanked the man, and again gave his blessings.
He's busy, but said he wouldn't mind being busier. Wednesday is the final day the army can accept donations. On Thursday it will distribute what it has.
People interested in helping the army provide for a family can contact The Salvation Army Community Center at 276-3369. Donors also can drop off goods and toys at center (not The Salvation Army Store) at 150 S.E. Emigrant Ave. Or they can check out the giving trees and the like at Wal-Mart, Denny's Restaurant or Woman-to-Woman in Pendleton.
One gift can make a difference in someone's life, Shepherd said. For example, there's a homeless man at the shelter who isn't able to work a regular job. But he can play guitar. The Salvation Army bought him one, and now he's jamming away.
"It's just little things like that," he said. "You give them hope for the future," .
And that's sort of what the army feels like it's really about: Helping people now to be able to do for themselves tomorrow. Shepherd said Community Center has helped two methamphetamine addicts become sober, and they in turn found jobs and are paying taxes and back child support.
"It's working," he said. "We are having an affect on people."
And the greatest affect he want to have on people in the next few days is clear:
"You don't want to see any need go unmet."