Salvation Army plans to relocate

FAIRMONT — Questions about the status of the Salvation Army in Fairmont have been buzzing through the community: Why is there a “for sale” sign in front of the Salvation Army Corps Center? Are they leaving town? What happened to the $1 million from the Milbrandt estate?

“The money has not disappeared. The Salvation Army has not gone anywhere. We are going to be staying in Fairmont,” said Joanne Lee, service extension director for the Salvation Army Northern Division in Roseville.

Lee explained the significant changes that have been underway in transitioning the local organization from a corps to a service extension center, including relocating to a different site.

Many people believe the Salvation Army to be only a charitable organization, offering humanitarian aid and helping the needy and hungry, but it also is a Christian church with almost 2 million members worldwide. When membership in the Fairmont congregation dwindled, it was decided to close the church, which made the local Salvation Army a service extension post since Oct. 1, 2017.

The Fairmont location was led most recently by Major Dale and Major JoAnn Hixenbaugh, who stayed through the transition before retiring in July. A new case worker, Krystal Stover, just started in August.

So what happened to the $1 million?

At the beginning of 2018, the Salvation Army was one of five local organizations that each received $1 million from the estate of Marlin Milbrandt. The other entities — Fairmont Opera House, Martin County Historical Society, Lakeview Methodist Health Care Center Foundation and Fairmont Community Hospital Foundation — earmarked their funds for capital improvements or investments. Because the Salvation Army was in transition, its funds were handled in a specific manner.

“Half is in a capital reserve account for Martin County,” Lee said. “The other half is in an interest-bearing account that we’re going to use for our new location.”

So why the move?

The Salvation Army Center at 114 E. Blue Earth Ave., a 60-year-old building, functioned well as a church, food shelf and for emergency services, but it was way too large and costly to operate for just the food shelf and social services, Lee said. On the other hand, the building was not large enough to also house the Family Thrift Store located at 314 Downtown Plaza.

“We looked around town to see if we could find a space that was large enough that we could move the thrift store in with our food shelf and social services, but we just couldn’t find anything,” Lee said.

The two properties that were of adequate size were the former Kmart building and the former JCPenney site, but both were too costly. Other properties would require extensive and expensive renovations to be accessible.

It was decided to leave the Family Thrift Store at its current building and lease another site at 303 Downtown Plaza for the food shelf and social services, an ideal location at the northwest corner of Third Street and Downtown Plaza, across the street from the thrift store.

“People are used to seeing us in that one location on Blue Earth Avenue. The ‘for sale’ sign going up, of course, is going to startle people and make them think we’re leaving town. We’re not leaving town. We’re just relocating because it is more cost-efficient,” Lee said.

A portion of the funds from the Milbrandt bequest will be used to pay for the Salvation Army’s share of remodeling costs for removing a wall and installing a window at the new Downtown Plaza office and food shelf, and for signage and shelving as well as ongoing leasing and utility costs.

“We’re still helping people,” Lee said.

Stover operates the food shelf from 9:30 a.m. to noon and 1:30-3:30 p.m. every Wednesday. The case worker also is accepting applications for the Christmas toy program from noon to 3 p.m. weekdays through Dec. 7. Applications continue to be accepted for assistance for rent, heat, transportation and other emergency services.

“We’re pretty flexible on other needs as well,” Lee said.

She related a story about how Stover recently helped a homeless man who had found employment.

“She helped him get a place of his own now that he has ongoing income. He has consistent income to help him going forward, but it took us to help him get an apartment,” Lee said. “We’re not just a check or a food box. That’s not what we intend to be. We intend to work with our clients and see how best we can help them, how to remove them from where they are today to true self sufficiency.”

The Salvation Army Service Extension Division in Roseville operates in 115 counties throughout Minnesota and North Dakota and has been helping people for decades.

“This is not a new concept,” Lee said. “It is not new to the Salvation Army, but it is new to Martin County.”