If you’ve been to Wal-Mart, Walgreens, Hobby Lobby or Kroger this time of year, you’ve probably seen The Salvation Army volunteers standing by the front doors with their red kettles collecting donations. No matter the weather conditions, they are there day in and day out with a smile on their faces, bells ringing, wishing shoppers a “merry Christmas.”
Have you ever wondered where those donations go?
Captain Ashley Robinett with The Salvation Army is a fourth generation Salvationist. She and her husband, Joshua, also a Captain for The Salvation Army, went to training school in Atlanta, Ga., in 2008 to become Salvation Army officers. On top of being Salvation Army officers, both Ashley and Joshua are also ordained ministers.
The Salvation Army reports a world-wide membership of more than 1.5 million. Ashley said the theology of The Salvation Army aligns pretty closely to that of the Methodists and the Nazarenes, though they have their own set of doctrines.
Although Ashley and her husband work in the same building with offices across the hall from each other, she said they really don’t see much of each other during the day.
“It’s funny, people ask this because you’d think we would get tired of seeing each other all the time, but we don’t see each other all the time. He has so many responsibilities of his own and I have so many, especially this time of year,” she said. “We might pass each other once in the day, we might get to go to lunch together maybe once a week, but it’s constantly running different places. We communicate a lot; we’ll email each other or text or something just to remind each other of things.”
The Salvation Army is set up to be “very militaristic,” Ashley said. It has ranks similar to the military, and Salvation Army families get transferred like military families do.
“I personally have never lived anywhere for more than four years. I spent 20 years of my life in different places in Texas, so I guess I would consider that’s where I grew up, in Texas. We’ve only lived in Hot Springs since June of 2015,” she added.
Ashley said the organization’s specific focus this time of year is the Red Kettle campaign, as it is their biggest fundraiser of the entire year. She said they are hoping to raise over $100,000 this year. The campaign will run up until Christmas Eve.
“The money that comes in from that is budgeted for the whole year and it’s to provide services that go directly back out into the community, whether
that be helping to pay somebody’s utilities, helping to provide rent, helping them to get clothing and food and temporary shelter. We help with all those things,” she added.
They also provided more than 30,000 meals to people in the community last year through their Red Shield Cafe, which is open five days a week, Monday-Friday beginning at 5 p.m.
Though all of the organization’s programs are important to her, Ashley said her biggest focus this time of year is the Angel Tree program. Since she’s the fourth generation in her family to be involved with The Salvation Army, she said she has worked on the Angel Tree program since she was a child and remembers running through the warehouse that housed all of the children’s’ toys and picking out toys to hand out.
“The program is designed to match low income families with this Angel Tree program in order to provide Christmas assistance,” she added. “We give them a food basket — we partner with Stomp Out Hunger to provide food for them — and you can pick an angel off the tree and go shopping for them. It’s a lot of fun. It’s probably the most stressful program that I’m involved with because it’s a lot of responsibility. It’s not a supplemental program; most of these families are very low income, extreme poverty, and so they’re coming and signing up and saying ‘I don’t have anything for my kids for Christmas’ and so we provide it all.”
She said their goal is to provide every child with one full outfit (a shirt, pants, shoes, jacket and under clothing), one primary toy worth over $25 and two secondary toys worth less than $25 each.
When asked why she enjoys her work, she said, “I think it’s giving people hope for something better, even if they don’t know what that is yet. Giving people hope. I’ve grown up in this, so, for me, I’ve always been around people who have lived in poverty and the majority of our clients are people who live in poverty, are very low income families. I just can’t imagine doing anything different.
“I’ll tell you that this was not my plan for my life before I felt called to be a Salvation Army officer, and then I had a long conversation with the Lord. It was not something that I had planned but it is something, now, looking back, that I couldn’t imagine not doing. I enjoy what I do.”
Ashley and Joshua have been married over 11 years and have four kids together: Joshua, 10; Elizabeth, 7; Danielle, 5; and Cody, 1.
Ashley said she isn’t pushing her kids to follow in their footsteps and become Salvation Army officers.
“I’ll be happy if they just continue to attend The Salvation Army and go to church services, even as they grow up. I want my kids to follow the Lord, and if that leads them to just become a member of The Salvation Army, a soldier, a senior soldier, a local leader, that’s fine. If God calls them to be, then I want them to do what Gold calls them to do and I’ll be happy, whatever that is,” she said.