Every year I give what I can afford to the Christmas appeal of the Salvation Army, who do wonderful work in helping the least fortunate to have some sort of respite or treat at that time of the year. Knowing that there are homeless people sleeping rough and scavenging for food is bad enough at any time of year; at the Christmas holiday time it seems doubly hard somehow.
The Sally Army, as it is affectionately called here, was set up as an evangelical movement in 1865 by William Booth in the poorer areas of London’s East End. His wife, Catherine, designed the famous Sally Army bonnet. Lieutenant Eliza Shirley was only 17 when she followed her father to Philadelphia, US, with permission from General Superintendent William Booth to roll out his work in her new country. George Bernard Shaw's famous play, Major Barbara, tells a story set within the work of the organisation.
The international work of the Sally Army is now widely recognised as not only bringing people to the Christian religion, but supporting the least fortunate of any religion. They are, for example, famous for reuniting people who have been lost for years with people who have missed them.
Their homeless shelters are available all year round, but as Christmas approaches they appeal to those of us who have the comfort of our homes to help them make a special effort over the holiday. Donations also go towards helping poorer families to have a simple Christmas dinner and presents for their children. Elderly people living alone might be invited to join others for a meal. Extra volunteers are needed to distribute meals and gifts, or just provide companionship.
The Army's work reinforces the message that Christmas as a time of goodwill is not just for the fortunate few. Some people think its members are too evangelical. I myself may not completely share their faith, but I know they do invaluable work. The SallyArmy has been performing small miracles for nearly a century and a half. It would be great to believe that it won’t be needed for that long again, but I really hope it can continue for as long as the needy are with us.