Salvation Army: Barriers to Giving.
Traveling along 22nd and Market Streets, I found myself looking at a large gray pile of rubble where the Salvation Army Thrift store once stood. Coincidentally, I was on my way to the Arch Street Salvation Army location to drop off clothing donations. This was a trip many Philadelphians take, filled with good intentions. A few times a year, families clean out their closets and fill durable plastic bags with clothes they’ve outgrown or no longer need. Given the current recession and high rate of unemployment, an even greater number of families are in desperate need of food, clothing and school supplies.
The Salvation Army has been a staple in American communities for decades. Many grew up with the belief that giving back was the hallmark of a socially responsible member of the world community. Yet, today the Salvation Army is suffering from a growing image problem. Some feel that organization may not be supportive of specific communities. Over the years there have been rumors about the Salvation Army refusing donations from the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) community. There has also been talk of the staggering lack of communication and connectivity within the organization itself.
Philadelphia is certainly in need of assistance as the city government recently announced dwindling funds for Public Schools and social programs. It’s no secret the city suffers as one of the nation’s poorest. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Philadelphia’s unemployment rate increased to over 10 percent, one of the highest in the nation. Additionally, The Shared Prosperity Philadelphia Plan, Philadelphia has a mind-blowing poverty rate of 28 percent. The plan states, “the rate of poverty in Philadelphia is the highest among the nation’s 10 largest cities.” More than 430,000 of the city’s 1,547,600 residents live below the federal poverty line. Given this ugly reality, city residents are trying to pitch in to help their neighbors as the new school year begins. Why then are Salvation Army centers turning away actual donations?
Suja Mathew, a social worker based in Center City, no longer supports the organization because she heard claims from closed circles that “the Salvation Army doesn’t accept donations from the LGBTQ community.”
Mathew said, “Why would I support an organization that doesn’t support me?”
With the best of intentions, I and a few close friends from the LGBTQ community did our usual seasonal closet purging filling empty boxes and bags with clothing to donate to local families. We all agreed that this would be the perfect opportunity to test the credibility of long standing rumors of homophobia aimed at the Salvation Army. My LGBTQ “posse” consisted of Gerry, a rather effeminate gay male, and Josey, a self-proclaimed “Queen.” There was no question about our LGBTQ status. We were clearly rainbow card carrying members. For good measure, we also decided to have the local LGBTQ organization, The William Way Center, offer a generous check as a donation. We made a point to be ourselves, kind, friendly and eager to give without too much fanfare. When we arrived at the Salvation Army at Arch Street, we were met with a look of distain by an employee who informed us that they,
“No longer take donations at this site.”
The employee then shot a loaded look in our direction as though we were committing a robbery, rather than simply leaving donations. Was the employee reacting to our obvious LGBTQ status or was her reaction a result of greater systemic problems, suffered by the organization, gross disorganization and miscommunication?
I was baffled, how could the Salvation Army turn away donations when so many families are in need of help. So, I drove to the Salvation Army Red Family Residence facility at 715 N. Broad Street to get an answer. When I arrived with my donations, I was once again met with hostility.
The woman at the window barked, “You can’t just bring that here!”
I kindly rebutted, I am attempting to drop off donations from the LGBTQ community for residents of your shelter. Do you accept donations here and if not why not?”
The employee replied abruptly, “No, we just can’t have bags laying around out here!”
Then she proceeded to wave me away as she answered the phone. How rude.
Only after I asked what other locations accept donations, the Salvation Army employee told us we would have to travel outside of Center City to either their Roxborough or Rising Sun locations. There were no locations accepting donations from anyone in the city. As it turned out, The Salvation Army donation hub was on 22nd and Market Streets, the same site that collapse earlier this summer. So to be fair, it must be difficult for the organization to manage donations following the donation hub collapsed. However, the lack of communication and information disseminated from the organization was staggering. Rather than branches of a single organization, each Salvation Army location offered conflicting information, thus acting as separate entities.
Having run into so many obstacles while dealing with the Salvation Army, I decided to call their Local headquarters to get their take on what happened. I left several messages for The Salvation Army’s Public Relations representative, Randal Thomas and another of his associates, Mrs. Debbie Fischer. However, they never returned my calls.
So, what does this mean for families in need and members of the community who simply want to help? There are many organizations who accept donations of time, money, clothing and much more- places such as Good Will and Women Against Abuse, Inc. The most active Goodwill location nearest center city is in South Philadelphia. For exact locations please find the addresses below. Good luck.
South Philadelphia, Front & Oregon, (215) 463-5054
HOURS: Mon.-Sat. 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Sun. 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
Women Against Abuse, Inc. located at 100 S Broad Street
Philadelphia, PA – 19110