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Gaithers moved by Army's work on Gulf coast

Commissioners Israel and Eva Gaither, Salvation Army national leaders, recently spent two days touring New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast learning how The Salvation Army is "Doing The Most Good" in responding to the long-term needs of Hurricane Katrina survivors.

The National Commander addressed employees and officers, many of whom are survivors of Katrina, at the Disaster Recovery Center in New Orleans where the Army continues to serve 600 cases per day. Gaither explained that he and his wife had been in 50 countries in the past three years and had not been more moved than they were while they toured recovering communities and Salvation Army disaster recovery centers in Biloxi and Pass Christian, Miss., and New Orleans, assisting communities in their recovery efforts.

The Gaithers were not on a "PR trip, but an encouragement trip" he said. "Thank you for what you are doing, do not tire in doing the most good - you cannot give up." Quoting Galatians 6:9, Gaither addressed the temptation to give up or slow down because "we will one day reap if we do not lose heart."

He went on to say, "Doing the most good is not a substitute for our faith, it does not cleanse us from sin, and it is no substitute for knowing Christ. It is for the mission, the evidence of who we are and what we believe," he said. "Doing the most good is proof of our life of faith; this is why it is important to us."

Service through The Salvation Army has influences that impact more than today. The influence we wield is "more than being ‘do-gooders'... our service impacts tomorrow," he said.

Recalling the song sung by the Disaster Center Employee Choir, Gaither said in closing, "The mission of the Army is embedded in America as never before and we will praise Him for the rest of our days and lift our hands to give God the glory in all we do," he said. "You are heroes."


Houston boy's concern results in help for city's homeless people

Stephen Smith, 7, is the first recipient of the Eliza Shirley Youth Achievement Award presented by the Salvation Army's Houston Advisory Board. The award was given to Stephen for his ongoing efforts to raise money for Christmas gifts for homeless people he saw living under bridges.

He was just 4 when he saw people living under highway bridges in downtown Houston that December. The sight of several children staying there as well was almost too much for Stephen to bear. He asked his mom, Kathryn, why those people were there and if they were going to have anything for Christmas.

As soon they got home, Stephen began looking for money, spare change around the house. He collected over $30 and set out to divide it evenly into several plastic bags. The next morning he and his parents returned to the city and hand-delivered the small monetary gifts.

"Most of them said ‘thank you' or ‘God bless you,'" Stephen said. "But then I wanted to do something more."

He planned a Christmas party and invited vfamily members, friends and schoolmates to come. The only admission was a toy for homeless children, or a gift for a homeless adult. The only thing left to work out was how best to distribute the gifts.

"That's when he spotted a Salvation Army billboard and asked us about that," said Stephen's dad, Jeff. "We told him that The Salvation Army helped a lot of people. He also saw a Salvation Army volunteer ringing a bell at a kettle stand."

"Then that's who we'll give the gifts to - they will make sure the gifts will be given to lots of homeless people," Stephen decided.

Since then, the Christmas party has become a family tradition and has grown. The party last Christmas season brought in 350 toys, about $2,500 in cash and hundreds of canned food items.

"Stephen is a remarkable young man," said Major John R. Jones, Houston area commander. "When I heard that his heart went out at the sight of families living under bridges at Christmas time, it reminded me of when the Founder saw men under bridges in London nearly 140 years ago, and said to his son Bramwell: ‘Do something!'"

In a way, history repeats itself - except that Stephen took it upon himself to do something despite his young age, Jones said.



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