Salvation Army transforms itself
FAIRMONT — The past two years have represented a time of change and adaptation for the Fairmont Salvation Army.
Dwindling membership in its congregation resulted in the closing of its church program in October 2017. In January 2018, the local organization received a $1 million bequest from the Marlin Milbrandt estate. Half of this money has been put into a capital reserve account designated for Fairmont, with the other half put into an interest bearing account for Fairmont. In August 2018, Krystal Stover assumed the duties of office manager and case worker for the local Salvation Army.
Several weeks ago, on April 1, the Salvation Army relocated its office and food shelf to 303 Downtown Plaza, completing its transition from a corps to a service extension post. Its former building at 114 E. Blue Earth Ave. was sold to Shepherd of the Lakes Lutheran Church in May.
Stover, who has a degree in social work, is no stranger to Martin County. She was born in Fairmont and lived in Rapid City before returning to Martin County because she wanted her children to benefit from the same quality education she received at Martin County West. She also is no stranger to the Salvation Army, having been raised in the church with a grandmother who served 50 years in the organization.
Stover handles her job with enthusiasm and dedication and is quick to correct any degrading stereotypes about her clients.
“There is a very, very small percentage of people that try to play the system, that are looking for a handout not a hand up. That got squashed right away, as soon as I got here,” she said.
“We have a large elderly population that are living on Social Security. We also have a huge population of working poor, single moms with one or two kids or families where the husband is working two jobs and the wife is working two jobs. They work full-time jobs, and more, but don’t qualify for government assistance. A lot of them are repeat clients who need the Salvation Army food shelf services to make ends meet each month.
“That’s mainly who I serve, the elderly whose retirement benefits don’t withstand their expenses and the working poor. I don’t think most people understand that. One little crisis can throw them off and leave them in financial shambles.”
Stover offers examples of her clients, like the woman faced with a $6,000 medical bill. Although the client had insurance, she was not covered in this instance, resulting in her losing her ability to pay her bills and buy groceries. Another client working two jobs makes $15 per month more than the cap to qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, more commonly referred to as food stamps.
These are the people that Stover and the Salvation Army are able to help, but the young man who quit his job when his boss told him to work faster was denied financial assistance.
“I’m not here to fix your personal life choices. Our donations were not donated for that purpose,” Stover said.
“I’m very good at referring people to jobs in the area,” she said. “If you walk through the door and you are an able-bodied person and you tell me you don’t have a job, there is very little reason for that if you live in Fairmont.”
She often finds that lack of reliable transportation often is a deterrent for people to maintain employment, but many of her clients use the local transit bus to get to their jobs and her office.
“I love to refer people to Kerry in Blue Earth because Kerry provides transportation from Fairmont,” Stover said. “They will pick up their employees in the mall parking lot and drive them to work and back, free of charge. It’s a pretty good deal, especially if you don’t have your own transportation.”
Stover also works with students referred by the CareerForce Center while these students are working on their GED.
“They come in and learn customer service skills, simple math and how to be professional. They work about 20 hours a week and help with our food shelf on Wednesdays and with donations,” she said.
Stover said she continues to be surprised at the level of need in the area and the situations of people who need a helping hand.
“I see about 2 percent of our population in a month,” she said. “That’s just me. That’s not counting the other food shelves and churches. I see people that work 10 times harder than I’ve ever worked in my life, but they are just not making it.
“It’s heartbreaking because it’s not fair. It’s frustrating because it’s not a position people put themselves in. It tears you up, and nobody teaches you in college how to handle the emotions this evokes in your heart. But I feel great about what I do.”
The Salvation Army food shelf is open on Wednesdays only from 9:30 a.m. to noon and from 1-3:30 p.m. Appointments for other social services and assistance can be made by calling Stover at (507) 238-9797.