Michael M. Bates
December 21, 2004
My Christmas truce with the Salvation Army
By Michael M. Bates

It's been said that two keys to happiness are a good sense of humor and a short memory. I've always had trouble with that short memory part. Indeed, it seems that most of my life I've been afflicted with Irish Alzheimer's: I forget everything but the grudges.

For years I contributed to the Salvation Army. At Christmastime I'd write a modest check in response to its annual fundraising letter and drop a few dollars in the familiar red kettles.

The Army has been involved in charitable works for well over a hundred years. Unlike many large humanitarian organizations, it appears to deliver the resources to where they will do the most good.

The people working for the Army don't do so because of the lush salaries or the nifty uniforms. They do it to help people in distress and in a manner consonant with their Christian beliefs.

In the mid-80s my view of the Salvation Army changed considerably. Until then, I'd thought of it as a non-political, non-partisan aid organization.

An article in the Chicago Tribune changed that. The piece noted that, "It's all the army can do anymore to keep up with the demand for their social services, which has increased by well over 100 percent since the early 1980s."

Hmm. The early 80s, which just coincidentally was when Ronald Reagan was elected President. The imaginary beginning of the national endeavor to kick the poor out into the snow and to force senior citizens to eat dog food.

Conservatives know all too well how often Mr. Reagan has been castigated for massive, unconscionable cuts in social welfare spending.

We also know that's a myth. In truth, spending on social welfare programs went from $344 billion in 1981 to $412 billion in 1989.

Yet the high-ranking Salvation Army officer interviewed for the article claimed: "Our funding is steady, but we're finding it extremely difficult to deal with the increased volume of people who need our help in times of government cutbacks." Those damnable cutbacks again.

I wrote a courteous letter to the Salvation Army and asked if that were the organization's official stance. No reply. Nor was there any correction or clarification printed in the newspaper.

Insofar as I could tell, the charity had joined in the disinformation campaign against President Reagan. After that the only thing I gave the Army's bell-ringers was a nod.

This year the Salvation Army is estimating that possibly it won't match last year's collections. One of the reasons is Target, which for years has allowed the kettles outside its stores, recently decided to extend a prohibition against solicitors to include the bell-ringers.

Could this be part of the anti-Christmas jihad we've seen sweeping the country? Is it part of the crusade to cleanse the holiday of its association with the birth of Jesus?

There's no way of knowing what Target execs had on their minds, but the reaction has been negative. Reports are that Target sales have been hurt.

Not missing a step is major competitor Wal-Mart. That company has pledged to match up to a million dollars in Salvation Army donations made at its stores.

To many Americans, the Salvation Army's red kettles are symbols of Christmas and its spirit of helping one another, particularly the less fortunate. At a time some folks want to erase any Christian connection to December 25, they represent a tradition that deserves to be maintained.

So Ebenezer Bates, the reluctant to forgive and forget curmudgeon, has decided the statute of limitations for thoughtless comments by a Salvation Army official has expired. Henceforth, more than a nod will be given when passing the red kettles. Especially when they're outside a Wal-Mart or Sam's Club.

And I'll take this opportunity to wish readers and their families a joyful and blessed Christmas. Let's keep Christ in the holiday for as long as we can.

This appears in the December 23, 2004, Oak Lawn (IL) Reporter.

© Michael M. Bates


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Michael M. Bates

Michael M. Bates has written a weekly column of opinion or nonsense, depending on your viewpoint since 1985 for the (southwest suburban Chicago) Reporter Newspapers... (more)

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