Salvation Army officer explains agency's mission

Captain David Leonard of The Salvation Army in Pine Bluff, accompanied by his wife, Major Geraldine Leonard, was the speaker for the Pine Bluff Rotary Club meeting held Tuesday at the Pine Bluff Country Club.

In keeping with the vision of William Booth, the founder of The Salvation Army, Leonard said everything the agency does revolves around “doing the most good to the most number of people with the most needs.”

Laying the foundation with some historical background, Leonard said Booth, who owned a pawn shop, was overwhelmed by the devastating poverty he saw around him and felt a need to do something.

A converted Christian, he was motivated by the Bible scripture in Matthew 25:42-45, “For I was hungry, and you didn’t feed me. I was thirsty, and you didn’t give me a drink. I was a stranger, and you didn’t invite me into your home. I was naked, and you didn’t give me clothing. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me. Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’ And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.”’

Booth began to reach out to help hurting people, those who were hungry, alcoholics and prostitutes. For Booth, part of helping meant pointing those people to attend church. However, according to Leonard, Booth soon learned that many society folks did not want to sit next to people coming in off the streets. So, Booth started his own meetings, which later became The Salvation Army.

The Salvation Army was set up on a military structure. Leonard said structure is important for people who, because of their circumstances, may have become undisciplined and uneducated. Leonard said some people, after receiving help with their problems, became a part of the solution. They joined the army to help others. As new soldiers, they were issued uniforms.

“What better way to build someone’s self-esteem than to give them a uniform,” Leonard said.

That same structure still exists today, but includes a bevy of services with a main focus on serving the needy, while providing programs geared toward character building.

“We want to give kids a safe place and a good place to learn about character building and get guidance from good men and women,” Leonard said.

In addition to offering rent, travel, clothing and furniture assistance, emergency shelter for men, women and families, emergency food boxes and dinner to the community seven days per week, the Salvation Army also offers women’s and men’s ministry, Bible study, worship arts, apologetics, teaching on healthy meal preparation, seasonal programs for youth and seniors, and Troops, a program similar to Boy Scouts.

The annual local budget to cover these programs is $1.3 million. About 48 percent of that budget comes from The Salvation Army thrift store. A percentage comes from the United Way and grants, but Leonard said, “it’s the donations that make it possible. Without donations we would not be able to keep the doors open.”

Leonard said volunteers raise more money than paid staff.

“Volunteers are there because they want to be there. They are usually happier; they have a pop to their step.”

Leonard appealed to the Rotarians was to get out and help with donations.

“We have to remember the forgotten people in the community,” he said.