Reporter: Ellie Mahan
December 15, 2021
Ring-a-ling, hear them ring; soon it will be Christmas day! The sound of Salvation Army bells ringing can be heard on the way into your local grocery store where you may be doing holiday shopping. Volunteers spend countless hours during this season giving back to the community by spreading holiday cheer and collecting funds for families in need in the area.
The money that Hill County volunteers collect with the Red Kettle Campaign is Salvation Army’s primary fundraiser, and the money is used to help families year round with groceries, shoes, clothing, utility bills and rent. None of the funds from Red Kettle Campaign go toward maintaining the non-profit organization, and Hill County Salvation Army doesn’t receive funding from national headquarters. Board members donate money from their own pockets to keep the army up and running.
Carol Westbook, chairperson of Salvation Army in Hill County, said, “Nothing that we bring in through the red kettle and our donations is spent on maintaining this building. Every dollar that comes in is spent on families in Hill County.”
Hill County Salvation Army was granted a new office space by the city in 2019, and Westbrook said that having a location in Whitney has made the organization more accessible. Now people are able to walk into the office next to the Whitney police station and communicate their needs, rather than receiving help over the phone.
“In the 30-plus years that Salvation Army had been in Hill County, there was really limited recognition for Salvation Army, and part of it was because there wasn’t a location for people to associate with the army,” Westbrook said. “It was important for us when I took over to have a physical location so that we could really attempt to help more people in need, and it has worked out that way.”
Westbrook has been chairperson of the army since 2018, when she transitioned from a part-time volunteer to a full-time volunteer. She said that when she saw the need for help in the community, she knew she had to accept the leadership position.
“As soon as you’re in a grocery store, over at Walmart for example, and a little child runs up and gives you a hug and says, ‘I remember you coming to my house and bringing me stuff,’ it makes it all worthwhile,” Westbrook said.
During the month of December, Westbrook doesn’t see her family often because she spends a lot of her time trying to raise the money that the army needs to help families year-round. Any time there is a hole in the schedule and nobody volunteers to be a bell ringer, she fills that hole.
By the time she finishes for the night, Westbrook often returns home at 1 or 2 a.m. She said although there are days when long hours or lack of donations can be frustrating and tiresome, she is motivated by seeing the difference it makes in people’s lives.
“You’ll have people that Salvation Army has been able to help, and they’ll tell you that because of what we did for them, that they’re able to give back. They open their wallets and give back,” Westbrook said.
Michael Nemec, pastor of Christ Lutheran Church in Hillsboro and board member for Hill County Salvation Army has been volunteering with the army for about eight years. Nemec has seen Westbrook give her all for the cause. He said, “Carol has been great for the Salvation Army. She is a very hard worker. We always have to tell her to slow down. We wouldn’t be here without her right now… She is just so busy going here and there and helping people as much as she can. She puts a lot of time and effort into this, and I admire her for that.”
Having two police chiefs on the board for Hill County Salvation Army helps the organization be more tapped into the needs of each town within the county. The board is made up of a variety of people including a bank president, a pastor and an everyday person like Westbook, eager to make a difference.
When a family calls on the Salvation Army repetitively to help with bill payment, the army is able to provide them classes that teach budgeting so they can learn how to be more financially stable. Other areas of focus for the army include taking children to a summer camp. To attend a similar summer camp, children’s parents could pay $1,500 or more, but the Salvation Army brings children to camp free of charge. After camp, the army works on providing children with school supplies.
Additionally, in February, the city used the Salvation Army office as a warming station when many people had no power during Winter Storm Uri. Westbrook would receive calls from people who said they were freezing and had no water and no food, and she would drive to their houses and bring them what they needed. The organization is constantly discovering new opportunities to help others.
Nemec said, “There are needs right here in our local community, and those are things we can participate in helping make better. Salvation Army is one of the ways here in Hill County that we can help make things better for our neighbors. I think it’s about providing financial help, which is what we do, but it’s also about showing them that there is somebody out there who cares.”
As an international movement, Salvation Army assists approximately 30 million Americans each year. Since 1865, the army has been pursuing its mission to “preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs in His name without discrimination.” In 1852, founder of Salvation Army William Booth broke away from the traditional church to preach the gospel to homeless, hungry people living on the streets of London. He and his wife trained evangelists, and within 10 years of starting what was then called The Christian Mission, the movement had more than 1,000 volunteers. In a report about the Christian Mission, Booth saw the organization referred to as a volunteer army, which is where the name Salvation Army originated. Today Salvation Army serves 131 countries around the globe, consisting of over 1.8 million members.
The Hill County Salvation Army is actively seeking volunteers. Those interested in volunteering can call Carol Westbrook at 254-707-1401 to fill out an application and begin helping others who may not be as fortunate and need a helping hand.
Westbrook said, “The more the merrier. The more people we have helping, the greater reach we have in the county.”
When asked what is required to volunteer with the army, Westbrook said, “Only that they have the love in their hearts and the desire to help somebody else.”