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A sparse crowd relaxes inside The Salvation Army dining area Tuesday as winter temperatures soar beyond the norm in Chattanooga. The organization celebrates its 125th anniversary this year.

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Chattanooga Salvation Army of doing good

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The Salvation Army advanced into Chattanooga more than a 100 years ago proposing to do good, and it hasn't stopped yet.

Armed with a mission to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs without discrimination, The Salvation Army in Chattanooga serves more than 20,000 people a year by providing services such as temporary shelter, utility bill payments, clothes and kindness.

The parent organization helps 25 million people in 128 countries around the world. It ranks fourth among Forbes' listing of the 100 Largest U.S. Charities for 2017, generating a total revenue of $3.7 billion.

Local spokesperson Kimberly George calls it "the hands and feet of the church and of Christ."

"They're the ones who roll up their sleeves and go where action needs to be done," she says.

Chattanooga's Salvation Army celebrates its 125th anniversary this year.

Dove Award-winning contemporary Christian group Selah started festivities with a concert last month, a volunteer appreciation is scheduled March 15 and an annual banquet is expected in August.

The celebration commemorates the vision of an organization that has implemented its mission for 125 years and done it so well that even the people it serves salute it.

"I'm just glad they are here," says 62-year-old Joyce Knox recalling when The Salvation Army paid her $200 utility bill.

March 16, 1893, marks the day J.C. Smith organized The Salvation Army in Chattanooga under the direction of Bramwell Booth.

Booth's father, William Booth of England, established the Christian movement with a quasi-military structure and government in 1865, and the movement marched from London throughout the world.

According to an article in The Chattanooga Times published March 18, 1893, The Salvation Army appealed to the neglected "poorer classes of the city."

"These classes refrain from religious attendance because the churches, they think, are only for well-dressed people and the shabbily attired have no place there," according to the article. "But The Salvation Army comes as a searcher out of these neglected classes, takes them into the army just as they are, equips them with the helmet of salvation and sword of the spirit and sends them out to look for others."

Booth considered The Salvation Army to be the army of God. Members and officers wear uniforms consisting of white shirts and navy blue jackets with the letter "S" on the side of each collar. The letters stand for "Saved To Serve," says George.

The Chattanooga Salvation Army's first shelter, the four-story working man's hotel, opened Nov. 18, 1903, at 532 Market St. From there The Salvation Army moved to 809 Georgia Ave. in 1920. Then to Roanoke Avenue in 1959 and to its present location on McCallie Avenue in 1975, says George.

She says God is responsible for the organization's longevity.

"You can say we've served 125 years and just roll that off of your tongue, but when you stop and really think about what has happened in our country and in our community in the past 125 years. We've gone through two World Wars, the Great Depression and the economic ups and downs that we've seen in our lifetime. So for a ministry to remain strong is a true testament to community support and to the fact that God is not through with us yet."

The local Salvation Army provides nearly 20 programs and services including the Angel Tree that supplies gifts for children and seniors during Christmas, the residential re-entry center that assists soon-to-be-released inmates with finding employment and housing and a disaster services program that is one of the largest federally recognized emergency disaster services agencies in the nation. It provides relief to up to 2 million disaster survivors and first responders each year in the U.S., according to csarmy.org.

One of the most popular Salvation Army fundraisers is the bell ringer and red kettle initiative that raises money for families during the holidays. The money is used to purchase Christmas gifts for low-income children and seniors.

Salvation Army Capt. Joseph McFee of California started the kettle fundraiser in 1891. He wanted to provide a free Christmas dinner for San Francisco's poor and developed the idea of putting a large pot at the ferry landing for people to throw in their charitable contributions. Since then, the fundraiser has became an annual tradition throughout the country.

But doing the most good hasn't come without challenges. In November 2017, for the first time in the Chattanooga organization's history, a man who appeared to be donating instead stole the red kettle.

The Salvation Army constantly seeks public assistance.

George says it currently seeks financial donations to capitalize on matching fund donations offered by a private donor and a local company. One anonymous donor will match up to $100,000. Another donor, a company, will match up to $25,000, she says.

Despite past and any present obstacles, The Salvation Army plans to continue its mission of sharing the Gospel of Christ and meeting the needs of the poor.

"Christian compassion in action, that is why we do what we do," she says. "Whether its for the homeless or the struggling family, Salvation Army is going to be there to provide help, hope and healing."

On a recent Tuesday, the warm, rich smell of coffee fills the organization's ReCreate Cafe, a day shelter for the homeless, as Nathan Brooks, a volunteer chaplain with the Hamilton County Sheriff's Department, plays guitar and art teacher Cassie Terpening distributes paint and paper to anyone who wants to pass the time with an art project.

Surveying the scene, 40-year-old Sophia Parks, who has been homeless off and on for the past 10 years, expresses her appreciation for The Salvation Army and the atmosphere it provides.

"We get to have coffee and spend time with friends and go to the thrift store and get what we need to keep us warm," she says. "They give you a helping hand with shelters and where to go to sleep."

She pauses before speaking again.

"I just want to say one more thing," she says. "I love The Salvation Army. I love it with all my heart. They are kind people."

Contact Yolanda Putman at yputman@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6431.

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