Stabilizing Force

The Salvation Army Service Center in Covington rose out of an anonymous donation a quarter century ago and remains a beacon for charitable hearts and the less fortunate.

by Michelle Floyd

It started as a gift from an anonymous donor 25-plus years ago and has grown into a philanthropic staple in Newton County. The Salvation Army Service Center on Washington Street in Covington opened in 1996, a year after the donation was received. “They wanted it to be built with no debt, [for The Salvation Army] to have a building and also be able to give to others,” said Wanda Reagan, who has served on the organization’s local advisory board for 32 years. 

Because of the aforementioned contribution, the center has enjoyed the freedom to focus on lifting up the community. Once every 12 months, Newton County residents can secure assistance, financial or otherwise, from The Salvation Army. Those in need can contact the center if they are seeking help paying their rent or mortgage or if they want to receive vouchers for clothing from the retail shop. 

“We see it all—people who have lost their jobs or who have medical issues and may be out of work,” said Kelli Packer, who has worked as a case manager for the Covington center since 2019. “We’re here to be able to help them when those times come.” 

(L to R) Levi Kobel and Sheila Blackwell

The center also houses a small food pantry. Local schools hold canned food drives to donate nonperishable items, and private donations are accepted, as well. Packer revealed that residents in need can visit the panty once every three months but indicated the center would not turn away someone if they were without food. 

“I tell them if they need it, just come get it,” she said. “It’s not huge, but it’s here.” 

In addition to private donations and sales from items inside the store, the center receives financial support through FEMA’s Emergency Food and Shelter Program and The Salvation Army’s Project SHARE. Donations made online or through another company will be routed back to the billing or designated zip code to ensure they reach the local community. Proceeds from clothing and household items sold at the store go directly to supporting those in the area who fall into financial hardship. 

Jody Carver, a service extension representative who covers metro Atlanta Salvation Army locations, admits there has been a shift in how the public donates. 

“We don’t see checks or even a lot of cash anymore; it’s all moving online,” said Carver, who worked at the Covington center for more than a decade before moving to a regional position four years ago. “You lose that personal touch, but the idea is to still get people sustainable.” While needs have not changed much over the years, the same cannot be said for the costs. “Where $300 might would have got them by before,” Carver said, “it might be $2,000 now.” 

“We see it all—people who have lost their jobs or who have medical issues and may be out of work. We’re here to be able to help them when those times come.”

The Salvation Army Covington Service Center
Case Manager Kelli Packer

A few full- and part-time employees run the Covington center, along with volunteers. Besides assisting those in need, the staff also collects food for the pantry and clothing and household items to sort in the warehouse before they can be displayed and sold in the store. The Salvation Army has not been immune to the issues impacting the rest of society, namely the coronavirus pandemic.

“We’re still here doing most of the same things,” said Levi Koebel, director of the Covington service center. “People have been slow to come back out and retail sales and donations have been a lot slower, but we’re doing the best we can.”

Beyond the day-to-day operation of the service center, The Salvation Army needs bell ringers for its Red Kettle campaign, which runs from Thanksgiving to Christmas. The monies raised through the campaign—it remains the organization’s single biggest fundraiser—go back into the local community. Carver volunteered for The Salvation Army while she was in high school and encourages individuals or groups to volunteer for time slots to collect money outside of area stores.

“If you don’t have the money,” Carver said, “you can always give your time.” 

Carver enjoys serving with her husband—her mother and mother-in-law have also worked for The Salvation Army—and two sons, ages 12 and 15. “I always take my family to ring bells at different locations,” she said. It allows her to feel connected to the community and gives her a chance to hear stories from others who have been impacted by the organization. From receiving local donations to having a disaster response team assist in an emergency, Carver tends to meet somebody new when she volunteers around the holidays. 

“Every day is a different mission,” she said. “I enjoy the ability to serve in a faith-based organization freely while helping others.” 

For information on The Salvation Army’s Covington satellite, visit SalvationArmyGeorgia.org/Covington or call 770-786-2107. To donate gently used items like clothing, furniture, appliances, toys, tools and books, visit the donation center at 5193 Washington Street SW, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

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