The Salvation Army first started serving the people of the Bulkley Valley in 1985, when it first opened Camp Mountainview, located just outside of Houston.
In the early 1990s, The Salvation Army opened their community service office and Thrift Store in Houston.
Shortly after opening in Houston, they opened a location in Smithers, and then one in Hazelton, to further expand the services offered to residents from all over the valley.
The Salvation Army is an international Christian organization that began its work in Canada in 1882 and has grown to become one of the largest non-governmental direct providers of social services in the country. The organization says it gives hope and support to vulnerable people today and every day in 400 communities across Canada and more than 130 countries around the world.
The Salvation Army offers practical assistance for children and families, often tending to the basic necessities of life, provides shelter for homeless people and rehabilitation for people who have lost control of their lives to an addiction.
Rick and Sarah Apperson run all three locations and it keeps them busy. Between the three facilities, they run three churches, three food banks and a thrift store.
“It helps having the three locations, as we are able to make bulk food orders, split it between the three and then adjust other things like clothing, as there may be an urgent need in one community and we can pull our resources together to meet the need,” Rick said.
Both Appersons went back to school to become pastor officers to be able to run the ministries.
One of the main services of all three locations run are the food banks. After they decided they couldn’t maintain the Thrift Store in Smithers, they broadened the food bank area at the local branch to provide more room for the food pantry.
“Access to food has been difficult since the pandemic,” Rick said. “It has been a challenge for everybody. The need in all the communities is the highest it has ever been, with rising costs of everything, we see more people every day making use of our food banks.”
“It’s been a challenge, as it has been for everybody, just being able to keep the shelves stocked. The Bulkley Valley has always been very generous with the Salvation Army, but demand has more than doubled here and donations have declined.”
To access help from the food bank in any location most people walk in or call. Rick says because of the stigma attached, and because people are proud and may be accessing the service for the first time, all the staff members try hard to keep the stress level low, to de-stigmatize the need and to reassure people the Salvation Army is here to help.
They realize many families are one paycheck away from the cycle of poverty, which can include homelessness and hunger.
“So we understand that it can be embarrassing at times for people,” Rick said. “We try to make our intake process as low barrier as possible and just make sure that people hopefully have a good experience when they’re here. We try to create an environment of safety so people don’t feel like they can’t ask for help.”
With the Smithers location, they decided they could make better use of the space the thrift store used to take up, so they only maintain a “clothing closet” for emergency needs, but run the thrift store in Houston which all three communities can pull from.
Another area that benefited from renovations was the kitchen.
“The kitchen is now a commercial kitchen,” Rick explained. “One of the programs that we’d like to offer sometime next year, is we’d like to start doing some cooking classes, for those who access services. For example, how do you cook the food that you get in your food hampers, what are some low cost recipes, and things like that. So for future plans, we’d like to offer some significant cooking classes and we have more programs planned.”
Another area the Salvation Army helps clients with are life skills and a program that is in the works is called Pathway of Hope.
“Basically, the program Pathway of Hope, which our staff have been trained and are being trained in, we will work with four to five clients at a time and help them set their own goals,” Rick said. “Whatever it is, it could be going back to school, upgrading your Dogwood Diploma (high school), goals for better housing, how to provide childcare, you know, take care of your child, how to clean your house, whatever it is we can provide help with.
“We also are looking for help from other organizations and community partners, who may be able to help us with this program in providing mentors, writing resumes, for job interview training, and possibly job opportunities.”
Soon, The Salvation Army’s Christmas Kettle Campaign will begin. It is one of Canada’s largest and most recognizable annual charitable events. In addition to the critical fundraising impact of the campaign, the Christmas kettles boost the Army’s visibility and awareness and provides money for the local programs in each community.
The Smithers offices are staffed Monday through Friday, and open for people to come by on Wednesdays and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. for meals and food bank items. They have plans in the works to be open other days in future for drop-in coffee and snacks.
If people want to make donations to the food bank, they can be dropped off at any grocery store or call the Salvation Army offices at 250-847-1501.