AUGUSTA — The Morrisons, both captains, accept their new posting to Altoona, Pa., serenely and with a little excitement. It’s their sixth move in 13 years.
“We’re going to miss it here,” Wendy Morrison said. “It’s a bittersweet move.”
They’re not part of the U.S. armed forces, but are officers in The Salvation Army, ordained when they completed The Salvation Army School for Officer Training in Suffern, N.Y.
“We’re set up like the military,” Matthew Morrison explained.
Matthew and Wendy Morrison, both 34, and their two children, Hannah, 10, and Cody, 7, will leave Augusta on June 23 after four years of supplying people in the community with food, furniture, vouchers for fuel and a host of other items, along with some spiritual counseling and referrals to other social services when needed.
The Morrisons will bring personal items with them, but the furniture stays; it’s part of the housing that’s provided by The Salvation Army.
Their Augusta post soon will be occupied by Salvation Army Majors Karin and David Dickson — currently posted to Waterville — and Lt. Erin Smullen of Berlin, N.H.
In Augusta, The Salvation Army operates a food pantry at its church on North Pearl Street, and Matthew Morrison said it regularly serves 65 families a month, a number that has been holding steady, unlike the sharp increase in requests for help with utilities.
“We got slammed last year with people needing fuel assistance,” Matthew Morrison said.
The Morrisons’ area of responsibility includes Augusta, Hallowell, Sidney and Chelsea, and they can call for assistance from other division units across the state. And while The Salvation Army does not operate a shelter here, the Morrisons frequently refer people to the Bread of Life Shelter in Augusta, and help supply that with food.
They work closely with civic and fraternal organizations as well, benefiting from fundraising and food drives.
Matthew Morrison said the Salvation Army budget in Augusta is about $250,000 annually, and that includes some $28,000 in grants for fuel and utility assistance.
Then there’s the famous Red Kettle drive around Christmas.
Wendy Morrison said that will be one of her fondest memories from this area. This past year, some $61,000 was collected in the kettle drive, well above the $53,00 goal.
“This is the most generous community we’ve ever been in,” she said. “Every Christmas I’ve been in tears and just blown away from the generosity.”
She said last year 33 families sought assistance at Christmas after the application period had passed. Following a last-minute appeal via Facebook, The Salvation Army was able to provide assistance, including food, to 30 of them.
The Augusta corps of The Salvation Army also runs an annual coat drive as well as Adopt-a-Family and Angel Tree programs.
The Morrisons were honored Friday at a celebration at the Elks Lodge in Augusta which they had arranged to salute some 70 people who volunteered and donated to the work of The Salvation Army.
“We have no employees, so we couldn’t do what we do without the volunteers and donors,” Matthew Morrison said as the couple helped arrange the tables, but they didn’t have to help in the kitchen.
“They actually have a crew cooking for us tonight thankfully,” Wendy Morrison said.
Special awards were given to people and/or organizations that raised the most money in one day as part of the Red Kettle drive. First place went to Le Club Calumet, Augusta’s Franco American club, and second place to Chet Spear, who played his cornet outside the Walmart Supercenter in Augusta, among other sites, this past holiday season. Top collectors for the season were Spear and Albert Carter.
The volunteer-of-the-year award went to Linda Beaulieu, of Augusta. “She’s my right-hand man,” Wendy Morrison said.
The Salvation Army Church in Augusta has a small congregation — about two dozen people — but hundreds of supporters, they say. The Morrisons’ work is supported by an advisory board of community members — currently headed by Richard Southiere — who want to give back to the community through The Salvation Army.
As ministers, the Morrisons preside at funerals and weddings as well.
Marguerite Sparrow, an Augusta Elks Lodge officer who volunteers with The Salvation Army, helped recognize the Morrisons for their efforts. She said a number of businesses and individuals helped donate to the Salvation Army Thank-you Dinner, including area supermarkets, Sandy Point Catering Services, restaurants and others.
The Salvation Army numbers “nearly 4 million soldiers of God within The Salvation Army worldwide,” according to www.usesalvationaarmy.org. the website of the USA Eastern Territory, which is where the Morrisons are based.
Betty Adams — 621-5631