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Post flood, Salvation Army wades into Christmas

By Ken Stickney

ken.stickney@panews.com

With temporary headquarters and new, permanent leadership, the Salvation Army in Port Arthur is taking on its second, post-Hurricane and Tropical Storm Harvey Christmas.

“Mostly what we need is money,” said Richard Sessions, who assumed leadership of the Service Center last summer. “Donated toys are great, too. We just need the finances to do the job.”

Sessions said the SA launched its limited Kettle Campaign on Friday. He said kettles will be staffed by volunteers at seven locations: Dillard’s, Market Baskets in Groves and Nederland, both area Walmarts, Hobby Lobby and Walgreens on Twin City Highway.

They’ll staff those sites from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays until Dec. 21. There is no target collection amount.

Volunteers — more are needed — come individually and from civic organizations and other formal groups. They include the Lions Club, Sertoma Club, Lamar State College Port Arthur nursing students, and honor societies at Bob Hope and Sabine Pass schools.

Shifts are for a minimum of two hours, but healthy volunteers are welcome to work longer. (Want to volunteer? Call Sessions at 409-670-6840.)

The SA launched its Angel Tree gift program Oct. 1, well in advance of Christmas. That program tries to serve children 2-12 years old. Parents offer their children’s names, ages, sizes and some suggestions for toys. (No bicycles or computers, please.) Names were placed in displays at local stores, and donors picked the names.

“Most of our angels have been picked up,” Sessions said, but the program mushroomed. Initially, he said, the idea was to provide gifts for 250 children, but requests grew to 500, the next benchmark, and finally to 750.

SA will also collect donations in boxes at area Dollar General stores until Dec. 21.

La Costa Dental has donated 200 toys; a private donor has added 200 pairs of socks.

“The number of kids we have, I think we’ll be OK,” Sessions said.

Sessions said the local SA has undergone change and more changes are expected. For one, the SA no longer operates a church here. Right now, they operate a service center from donated space from Grace Church of the Nazarene, 4601 Rice Farm Road. They may remain in those temporary quarters for another year.

But the service center is seeking a permanent home, something with an established building on the Port Arthur bus line. He said he would meet next week with a resource representative from the church headquarters in Dallas to begin the hunt.

“We need something more visible,” he said.

He also said the SA is planning some sort of veterans health awareness event next year, probably on Feb. 14 — Valentine’s Day — “because we love our veterans.”

For now, he said, the SA still has local support but less of it because not everyone has returned to Port Arthur since the storm.

“You can drive up and down streets and still see some homes are empty,” he said.

Nonetheless, he said, he’s glad he assumed the service center leadership.

“I like the people,” he said. “We are going to help make Port Arthur a better place.”