The jingling sound of a bell followed by the clink of coins being tossed into a Salvation Army Red Kettle has become part of the Christmas tradition all over America.
“All the money we raise from ringing the bell goes directly back to this local shelter,” said Lynchburg’s Salvation Army Captain Donald Dohmann who runs the shelter on Park Avenue across from Miller Park.
In operation for 116 years, Lynchburg’s Salvation Army has been running the Red Kettle campaign for 60 years. In the past two years it has fallen just shy of its $250,000 annual goal.
Though volunteer numbers are down and are much needed, Dohmann has high hopes for raising the goal of $250,000 in 2016.
“I suspect people are just busier and over commit themselves,” he said.
The campaign runs from the first Friday in November until Christmas Eve and has kettles at 36 locations.
“It’s our biggest fundraiser of the year,” he said. “The Salvation is the area’s oldest shelter. We were the first to provide shelter in Lynchburg.”
The shelter is able to house homeless families together without separation.
Funds raised by the campaign cover the cost of running the shelter, pay utility and housekeeping bills and are used to the assist those on the verge of homelessness.
The shelter has 84 beds but opens a “warming station” in the winter months when the weather hits 40 degrees and below for an additional 50 guests.
There are about 60 to 80 mouths to feed for breakfast and 100 to 120 every evening for dinner.
The shelter stays about 80 percent full most of the year and is at full capacity in the winter. Women and children stay in the chapel while men stay in the dining hall.
The Salvation Army provides everyone coffee, hot chocolate and sandwiches during the colder days.
“Some people live in places without heat and people don’t realize the amount of people who are renting a home that doesn’t have running water or heat,” Dohmann said. “They don’t have the money to pay for those things. People are scared that if [the Department of] Social Services finds out, they will take their children.”
The first thing the shelter does when someone comes to stay is a drug test and criminal background. Child sex offenders are not allowed.
“We have an adult rehabilitation center in Richmond, [Washington] D.C. and Hampton Roads and we can refer them to one of those,” Dohmann said. “They can stay during the winter [in Lynchburg] if they are on drugs or intoxicated so they don’t freeze to death but they have to be on their best behavior. It’s the only time they can stay.”
When someone comes to stay as a guest, they are assigned a case manager to help get them back on their feet. Oftentimes, they come in with nothing but the clothes on their back and a few personal items, according to Dohmann.
“If they have children we make sure childcare is provided so they can get a job,” Dohmann said adding that the center then works with clients to match their skills with open jobs.
Shelter Lieutenant Leo Killion knows homelessness from both sides as he experienced it when he was just 7 years old.
He said the only reason his mom, sister and himself had a Christmas at all that yearwas because of the work the Salvation Army did.
“I was so worried Santa wouldn’t know where I lived,” he said.
He got involved with the shelter’s youth programs and now has had a 22-year relationship with Salvation Army.
“One day I felt the Lord leading me in this direction of serving him through serving others,” he said.
“I can’t imagine my life any better than the way it is today because of the Salvation Army,” he said.
Salvation Army residents who do not work or work a third shift job, have to leave the shelter during the day.
“If they have a part-time job, we highly encourage them to get a second one,” Dohmann said. “This isn’t just a come and hang out shelter.”
When asked if Lynchburg has a homeless problem, Dohmann said most of those he deals with at the shelter have come to the city from elsewhere, including Richmond and Roanoke.
“I think a lot of the homeless, at least the ones we work with, they were homeless in other places and they burned all their bridges and don’t have resources,” he said. “The word gets out, whenever you’re homeless, where can you go that you’ll be taken care of. … Lynchburg is a generous community, they come because of the generosity of the people.”
Steven Booker, a resident at the shelter since July, said he came to Lynchburg from Georgia where he lived with his daughter and granddaughter for three years.
Though he has to adjust to the hills of the city, he said he enjoys his surroundings.
Due to a disability, which worsens in cold weather, Booker said he can’t work.
“In Georgia, the weather was hot and it didn’t affect me as much, but since I’ve been here, when the weather gets down to 40 [degrees], the disability starts acting back up,” he said.
This is Booker’s first time living in a shelter, to which he said he finds “satisfactory” because the staff are working to help him back on his feet.
Dohmann said as long as they have open space, they will do what they can to help people.
The shelter is always in need of donated food such as spaghetti noodles and sauce, breakfast items, ravioli, stew and canned items as well as toiletries, washing powder and towels.
However, the greatest need this year is for volunteers to sign up to ring bells for the Red Kettle Campaign.