The Salvation Army is one of the most beloved and effectual social service agencies anywhere — and locally — that is no exception. As we approach the Christmas season, strongly associated with the Salvation Army, the local “Army” has had a change in leadership, with two individuals determined to continue to do God’s work effectively and compassionately.
This past July, Major Sheryl A. Hershey and Lt. Jaclyn Brewer assumed command at The Salvation Army’s Williamsport Corps. It is already evident they both have a big heart for our community and dedication to the Salvation Army’s mission. While most of the local Salvation Army’s Christmastime events and services will remain largely the same, Major Hershey and Lt. Brewer are approaching them with renewed enthusiasm and some fresh ideas.
Introducing Major Hershey and Lt. Brewer.
Major Hershey grew up in Carlisle, PA, where a local babysitter took her to Salvation Army youth and music activities. She soon grew to love The Salvation Army, and in 1984 experienced a clear call to become a Salvation Army Officer while working at The Salvation Army’s Camp Ladore in Waymart, PA. In obedience to this call, she completed officers’ training and later earned a bachelor’s degree from Lancaster Bible College. As a Corps Officer/Pastor, Major Hershey has served in several Salvation Army appointments, first in Connecticut and then in several Pennsylvania communities, including York, Sunbury, West Pittston, Lock Haven, Milton, Berwick — and now Williamsport.
“The ministry I enjoy the most is working with youth of each community,” Major Hershey told Webb Weekly. Reflecting on her own childhood introduction to The Salvation Army, Major Hershey added, “I have been so blessed, and hopefully (through this ministry) I am planting more seeds.”
Like Major Hershey, Lt. Jaclyn Brewer also grew up in The Salvation Army. As a youth, she was very active in the Cleveland (OH) West Park Corps as a commissioner Sunbeam and a faithful soldier in The Salvation Army Church. After earning a bachelor’s degree in Biology, she had difficulty finding a job in her desired line of work, so she returned to the Cleveland West Park Salvation Army as an Activity Coordinator in their Seniors’ Program. Soon she found herself getting fully immersed in The Salvation Army — teaching.
Sunday school, advising Girl Guards, and attending women’s ministries. “I graduated from college fully intending to pursue a career in medical research,” said Lt. Brewer, “but God clearly had other plans for me.” After accepting another position as Ministry Assistant with the Massillon (OH) Salvation Army, she completed officers’ training and was ordained and commissioned in 2017. Lt. Brewer most recently served in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania.
Upon their arrival, both Major Hershey and Lt. Brewer wasted no time this summer in engaging with local and regional youth — hosting a week-long music camp, running an exciting Vacation Bible School program, and collecting and distributing not just thousands of school supplies and backpacks, but also blankets and food to local families with school-age children needing a helping hand to make ends meet.
“For next school year, my vision is to grow our youth programs into a full-blown after-school program,” said Major Hershey. “I’ll be focusing on that in 2022 — after Christmas,” she added.
Locally, various dedicated individuals volunteer and help the Salvation Army with its important work. Kent Bennett is one of these people.
“I’ve been serving on the board of advisors since 2005. I’ve been the fundraising chair for the past five years. This is my third year as Chairman of the Board of Advisors,” said Bennett. “Volunteering for the ‘Army’ is a way of giving back to the community in which I make my living. We have a good blend of volunteers serving on the board from different professions in the community. We’re always looking for additional representation on the board. We serve the community with a variety of programs. Our primary focus is serving and assisting those less fortunate in our community. As we assist them, we are serving the Lord first and foremost. We have a food pantry, assistance available for financial aid for utilities, a workwear program where people can obtain clothing to interview for a job and work, and we reach out to all age groups in the community, including youth and senior programs as well as programs geared to help individuals and families break the cycle of poverty. We are advocates of providing a ‘hand up,’ not just a ‘hand out.’ We have a Red Shield Community Garden, which provides folks a place to plant and grow food and education on planting, harvesting, nutrition, and food preparation. We do a large distribution for the Christmas holiday of food for hundreds of individuals and families as well as toys for children. This year again, we will be the only organization distributing toys.”
The pandemic has presented some fundraising challenges for the local Salvation Army. According to Bennett, they have had to cancel 7 of 10 fundraisers, resulting in a loss of about $100,000 in potential revenue.
“We are planning on sending out letters to past sponsors and supporters of the events we cannot hold requesting financial support,” Bennett said. “The national kickoff for our traditional ‘Red Kettle” is on Thanksgiving day during halftime of the Dallas Cowboys football game. So, we are targeting that date, and we will have kettles with bell ringers at various retail outlets.”
Christmas 2021 began around Labor Day at The Salvation Army of Williamsport, with operations now in full swing.
Major Hershey kicked off Red Kettle season earlier than ever this year in hopes of raising $60,000 to sustain and expand The Salvation Army’s local programs and services. “I’m a Red Kettle person,” Major Hershey said, “While Red Kettles and bell ringers are The Salvation Army’s beloved Christmas trademarks, the needs they help us address aren’t limited to any season. You can look for (and support) Red Kettles again this year at many regular spots such as Walmart and Sam’s Club and new locations such as Hobby Lobby.” Major Hershey is currently seeking both volunteer and paid seasonal help for bell ringing. If interested, please call 570-326-9187.
The Salvation Army, in partnership with Penn College Veterans’ Services, is kicking off this year’s Red Kettle season with its 6th Annual Community Challenge Red Kettle Series 5K/10K/Half Marathon at 10 a.m. on Saturday, November 6, along the scenic trails of the Williamsport Municipal Water Authority, 1600 Mosquito Valley Road. Interested individuals or groups can register online at runsignup.com or contact Laura Templeton at The Salvation Army, 570-326-9187, x103.
Registration fees range from $30-$50/person, and proceeds support The Salvation Army’s local programs and services. New this year — one of The Salvation Army’s canteens (similar to a food truck) will be on hand to serve refreshments at the race. In 2022, Major Hershey hopes to make The Salvation Army canteen a regular fixture in our community — offering free hot meals periodically throughout the year to our neighbors in need.
In addition to Red Kettles and the Annual Community Challenge Trail Run, The Salvation Army is also hosting its 19th Annual Festival of Trees at the Lycoming Mall. For a $50 entry fee and the donation of at least $200 in incentives, area businesses or organizations sponsor and decorate Christmas trees, which will then be auctioned off (with the incentive packages) on December 10th, at 7 p.m., to benefit The Salvation Army’s local programs and services. “With supply chain concerns and rising costs this Christmas season, we expect the Festival of Trees auction to be more popular than ever,” said Laura Templeton, Salvation Army Community Relations and Development Director. “Successful bidders can get a fully decorated tree for their homes or businesses, complete some of their Christmas shopping by earning some nice incentives, and also support The Salvation Army — all at the same time.” For more information on the Festival of Trees, contact Templeton at 570-326-9187, x103. Tree sponsorship forms, entry fees, and incentive lists are due November 12.
Other Salvation Army Christmas-related activities include:
Sheetz Christmas Celebration
Each year, The Salvation Army partners with Sheetz to identify local children in need and hosts the distribution of presents donated by Sheetz employees.
Christmas Assistance Program
During November, eligible households can once again sign up at appointed times with The Salvation Army to receive food and toys for Christmas. The Salvation Army is grateful to their partners at Toys for Tots for providing most of the toys for this program.
For more information about Christmas Assistance sign-up dates/times, eligibility requirements, and associated volunteering opportunities, please contact Rose Confer, Social Services Coordinator, at 570-326-9187, x102.
The Salvation Army also enables area businesses, families, or individuals to
“adopt” local families in need. The “adopter” receives the adopted family members’ specific Christmas wish lists for items such as toys, clothing, and bedding then purchases the gifts requested. To preserve mutual confidentiality (and the “secret Santa” spirit), The Salvation Army distributes the presents to the adopted family, and in turn, delivers the grateful families’ thank you card(s) to the generous donors after Christmas.
Similarly, The Salvation Army works with local businesses and organizations such as Walmart, Sam’s Club, and the YMCA to sponsor Angel Trees that are decorated with tags, each displaying a Christmas wish list for a boy or girl in need in our community. To become an “angel” and brighten a local child’s Christmas morning, simply select a tag at any participating location, purchase the items, and drop them off Monday through Friday, 9 a.m.-noon or 10 a.m.-4 p.m. at The Salvation Army at 457 Market St., Williamsport.
As The Salvation Army reminds us, Christmas marks a special opportunity to remember the birth of Jesus Christ and reflect God’s love by serving our neighbors. So, whether you are in search of a blessing — or a way to become one to someone else — Major Hershey, Lt. Brewer, and everyone at The Salvation Army look forward to working with you so that “hope marches on” in the hearts and homes of Lycoming County year-round.