For thousands of people in our region the Salvation Army is so much more than Christmas donation kettles and brass bands.
Of course, The Salvation Army does offer the basics of life to those in need. People will always be given food, clothing, and advice leading to other services but beyond that the Army also offers fellowship and, most importantly, hope to those going through tough times.
Quinte News visited the Belleville Salvation Army’s Family and Community Services/Thrift Shop building at 295 Pinnacle Street
recently and talked to some people about their lives and how the Army has been able to brighten their days.
Wayne Hunter basically owes his much improved life to transitional housing and the Belleville Salvation Army. The 40 year old
has been plagued by bouts of mental illness since his teen years growing up in Oshawa.
He scrambled through the years, often couch surfing, but things got worse over time and in 2016 he found himself in Belleville, down and out.
He was homeless, hungry and lost.
He was lucky the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Belleville office could help him find shelter at that time while pointing him
in the direction of the Salvation Army.
“I was broke and confused. But Abby Mills got me some decent clothing and of course I enjoyed the lunches and dinners. The staff and
volunteers were always there to help and they built up my sense of dignity and self worth over time.”
Life’s a lot better for Wayne now, although he still struggles with anxiety and depression from time to time.
He has a definite goal and that is to do a job that lets him help people who are suffering from much the same problems that he’s had
to deal with.
“I know about poverty and other challenges people face. I want to help fill in the gaps and make life better. I’d love to work
for Peer Support of Southeast Ontario. They offer services to people with mental illness and addictions, as well as to the homeless.”
To that end, Wayne is now enrolled in the Social Services Program at Loyalist College.
But he’ll never forget the help and fellowship he’s experienced from all of the folks at the Salvation Army, including others partaking of
the services offered.
“I feel a need to pay the Salvation Army back. It feels good just to sit in this building! When I was a kid my parents always told me
to throw some change into the Army’s Christmas kettle because they said I’d never know when I’d need them!”
To this day Geoff Hiles remembers what his mother used to say to him. “You were such a fun outgoing kid until you turned 5.”
Geoff was 5 when he became the victim of sexual abuse.
After that and until fairly recently he admits to suffering “revolving door syndrome” which simply means being constantly in and out
“I did lots of stuff to end up in jail. Break and enters, assaults, impaired driving.” His longest jail sentence was 2 years.
Now 51, Geoff grew up in the area and his parents ran a retail business.
About 15 years ago in Peterborough Geoff began to change his ways. “I got involved with a street ministry there and I started to see the light”.
Then, closer to home in Belleville, he turned to the Salvation Army for help.
“I felt accepted here. Staff and other people were always ready to talk to me. When I was short financially, I ate here.
I got feeling better about myself and I actually started to want to work. I’d hated the thought of honest work all my life.”
Now Geoff earns his keep doing odd jobs throughout the area.
And he’s enjoying giving back to the Salvation Army. He’s been a volunteer for almost 2 years with much of that almost full-time.
“I don’t know where I’d be without the Salvation Army.”
Now for something completely different. Michael Renzi is not needy. Nor is his family. But the Renzi’s are big fans of the Salvation
Many will know or know of Michael Renzi, now 37, as he played for the OHL’s Belleville Bulls from 1998/99 through 2001/02.
The 98/99 Bulls were league champions. Renzi played right wing.
The outgoing Renzi, a single father of 4 and a stay at home Dad, is still much involved in the hockey world. He’s a volunteer coach and a paid timekeeper and hockey instructor.
Why would a man like Michael Renzi be so involved with the Salvation Army?
“I was next door at a business when I saw someone I knew outside of the Salvation Army building on Pinnacle Street. I went over and started talking to him and he said he was going in for some lunch. I thought to myself, what the hell and I went up with him. I loved the place. There were all kinds of people around and everyone was friendly.”
From then on, Michael made a point of bringing his young son Rocco to lunch at the Salvation Army on a regular basis. “Rocco was shy at first but everyone really enjoyed having the boy around and it didn’t take long for him have a great time talking and goofing around with the staff and patrons.”
It’s important to Michael that Rocco like all people, not just certain types.
“Not everyone’s is rough shape here. There are retired professionals here. Many people come here to socialize. I tell everyone I know I come to the Salvation Army from time to time. Believe me they’re great people and worth donating too. Some of my friends are now donating items or money and they never used to.”
“They don’t judge you here. Can you imagine going into a place where they don’t judge how you look, what you wear, how much money you make, what kind of car you drive?? It’s fantastic here! Almost anywhere else you’re being judged.”
These are just three stories among the thousands that can be told by people who need and/or enjoy the services and simple human kindness offered by the Salvation Army.
The Christmas kettle campaign continues. Belleville’s goal is $200,000 and in Quinte West the goal is $90,000.
Your donations will be well used.