In transition: Salvation Army ends one chapter, begins another

Michael Oleksyn/Daily Herald Shoppers were busy looking for bargains at the last day of the Salvation Army Thrift Store on Central Avenue on Friday.

It’s the end of one era and the beginning of another for the Salvation Army Thrift Store on Central Avenue.

Friday was the last day of operations for the Thrift Store, but Major Ed Dean of the Prince Albert Salvation Army said it was not the end of Salvation Army service in the downtown, it’s simply a transition to better meet the community’s needs.

The space that was occupied by the Thrift Store will be turned into a dining room and kitchen large enough to serve the numbers they are currently serving.

“The Salvation Army has been in this community for 130 years. We’re just readjusting focus,” Dean said.

“Financially the store has been losing money for some time and we are feeding up to 250 people six days a week, so we need to readjust the focus as to what we’re doing,” he added.

The Salvation Army recently moved its church downtown and works out of one building in the community. He said the organization is healthy, but the thrift store was struggling.

“We need to make changes somewhere,” he said. “With the store losing funds, then would be the natural transition.

“There’s an adjustment for everything. We have moved from two buildings to one, so there’s an adjustment there. The need has increased. We have to serve that need. The thing that’s not changing is what we do.”

Dean said they will still give clothing to those who need clothing and help those who are displaced and need assistance. However, providing meals will become their primary focus.

He said that the ranching and farming community would understand the analogy because if there is no water to feed the cattle there is no cattle and no water for crops there is no crops.

“At some point in time, you got to call it what it is. When it’s hemorrhaging funds, when there’s only so much water in a well and that well has dried up,” he said.

“If there’s no money to continue to fund it, there’s no service,” he added.

Michael Oleksyn/Daily Herald Shoppers were busy looking for bargains at the last day of the Salvation Army Thrift Store on Central Avenue on Friday.

Dean said it was a difficult decision to close the store, but the challenges have mounted. Increases in violence and theft have been major problems, and Dean doesn’t see it going away soon.

“People walk in and they’ll just walk out with a whole armload of stuff,” Dean said. “Well, somebody’s got to pay for that.”

The Salvation Army sells donated items at the thrift store. Dean said some people think theft shouldn’t be a problem then because they aren’t losing money. However, the Salvation Army has other costs, such as staff and building maintenance, which the item sales help cover.

“(The cost) adds up real quick,” he said. “There was major work done on the building here this spring. The heating and air conditioning were replaced so that was a fair dollar. At some point in time, you need to balance the books somewhere.”

Dean said that the store should be designed to support the mission and not the mission designed to support the store. It’s done that in the past, but those days are gone.

However, Dean said just because the thrift store is gone, that doesn’t mean the Salvation Army won’t be active in the downtown.

“Hopefully going forward with community support the Salvation Army will continue on this,” he said. “We will continue on this corner. We’re not going anywhere,” he added.

Dean said there would be signs going up in the near future marking the site as the future home of the community kitchen and dining room.

Right now, the Salvation Army serves up to 250 free meals a day, but does not provide a place for patrons to sit down and eat. Closing the thrift store will free up space for meals, and allow the Salvation Army time to build relationships with patrons, who previously would take the food and leave right away.

“How do we know what (their) needs are if we never have time for the conversations? The conversations are important as it gets closer to winter,” Dean said.

Donations will continue. On Friday morning, Dean said they provided one client with socks and shoes after he showed up without either. They will collect donations to continue handing out those items once the transition is complete.

“There will still be some donations needed: jackets, blankets, stuff like that,” Dean explained. “We’re still going to need those.”

Dean said they’ll be relying on their annual Salvation Army Kettle Campaign and Christmas Campaign to help meet those needs.

“That is a very important campaign where we are needing volunteers who can ring bells, (and) help us in our toy distribution area,” he said. “There are still volunteer opportunities, so the best thing to do is to be in touch with us to find out what those opportunities are.”

He said that even though it is late September, they have already filled four shifts for one kettle location.

“Letters went out to groups already asking them to book their date that they could help us. Hopefully we will see a lot more community involvement this year because those funds directly go into what we do in community, for example, our feeding program,” Dean said.

Dean explained that the feeding program costs money and gave the example of spending $800 on eco-friendly paper products the other day.

“That doesn’t count the food,” he said. “There was no food in what I purchased, so every time you do that, there’s another thousand dollars in eco friendly product where hopefully, when we’re into a dining room, you can transition to plates and real dishes. It will be much better for the environment, it will be much better for the people and it will be much better for our team of volunteers.”

Customers on the last day said that they were disappointed that the store was closing. The cashier who was working said that she had heard that sentiment numerous times since the announcement.