Every year, during their Red Shield Appeal, the Salvos urge Australians to dig deep. We explain why, writes Jen Vuk.
In 5 May 2010, Jordan* walked out his front door and never returned again. He was 12.
As he tells it, he just couldn’t take it any more. His mum had long been battling substance and alcohol abuse, and Jordan, who was baby of the family, was often at the end of her neglect and abuse.
“She’d hurt me,” he says. “She’d do horrible things. She wasn’t caring for us. As I was the youngest, she had the most power over me.”
Now 19, Jordan remembers that first night on the streets like it was yesterday.
“It was really scary. I couldn’t think about anything except where I was going to sleep, and what would I sleep on. It’s not a good feeling.”
For several years, Jordan slept on the couches of extended family, friends and foster families. Eventually, he arrived at Brayton, a Salvation Army youth homelessness centre in Shepparton, in Victoria’s rural north, in 2011.
“It was safe—like a family. I’d never had a real family,” he says.
Jordan’s story is undeniably distressing, but unfortunately it’s far from unique. The teenager is simply one of more than a million Australians assisted by The Salvation Army every year.
Some of the funds that go towards running community services, such as Brayton, are raised over a single weekend—on 27–28 May—during the Salvos’ signature Red Shield Appeal, with the majority garnered from the month-long campaign.
Launched in 1965, and promoted under one of Australia’s most recognisable symbols, this year’s annual target is $73 million, while the goal for the weekend-long doorknock appeal stands at $8 million.
The Salvos are also aware that without the 100,000 volunteers who kindly give their time to collect at train stations, intersections, shopping centres, or during the weekend doorknock, the Red Shield Appeal would still only be a pipedream.
Volunteers, such as Queensland couple William and Dorothy Connelly, who only stepped away—reluctantly—from volunteering for the appeal this year when they both turned 100.
“They used to sit outside Donut King at Wynnum Plaza during the Red Shield Appeal,” Major Gary Craig, corps officer (minister) of Wynnum Corps (church) tells Warcry. “Everybody knew them and their faithfulness contributed greatly to [the Red Shield] campaign.”
They care for people and share the love of Jesus, and
in doing so, make a difference in the lives of many within the community.
~ Caitlin, Red Shield Appeal volunteer
While she’s only 19, Caitlin* has been volunteering with the Red Shield Appeal for as long as she can remember.
“My mum can even recall pushing me in a pram while doorknocking for the Red Shield Appeal,” she says.
But it wasn’t until her teen years that Caitlin took up more of an active role. One of the things she most enjoys is chatting to the public and letting them know how far their spare change can go.
“Supporting The Salvation Army is important for the community as they invest in the programs and services which enable them to able to meet people at their point of need,” she says.
“They care for people and share the love of Jesus, and in doing so, make a difference in the lives of many within the community.”
Someone who owes her life—literally—to the appeal is Western Australian mother-of-two Karen*. If it wasn’t for The Graceville Centre in Perth, another service funded through the appeal that provides a stopgap for women following family and domestic violence incidents, she doesn’t believe she’d be here.
“Without [Graceville], I would probably be dead,” she says. “Used and used until I overdosed. I was lost and alone…these women helped me change my life.
“I now work for the Salvos for their homelessness services. I’m out of debt, I have a good relationship with my kids and this is through the ladies here. I owe the Salvos everything. They helped change my life, they were patient with me, they believed in me when no-one else did.”
You can hear versions of Karen’s story in Salvo-run programs throughout Australia—from homelessness services, such as Toowoomba Crisis Accommodation and Samaritan House in Mackay, and drug and alcohol services, such as Harry Hunter in Perth and Oasis Youth Services in both Canberra and Sydney, to name a few.
And remember Jordan?
“When I left home I kept having flashbacks to what Mum would do,” Jordan recalls. “My counsellors would sit with me and ask what they could do to support me. They were supportive and understanding; they were just there when no-one else was. They helped me settle in and they made it a home.”
Thanks to this ongoing support and guidance, Jordan graduated from year 12 in 2015.
“I don’t really know how I did it. It was a huge relief for me. It’s good to have people who have got your back. It could’ve been a totally different story.”
With social work on the horizon, Jordan has a bright future ahead. He’s looking forward to helping other struggling young people and hopes to remind them that, while life can be hard, it can also surprise.
“Don’t give up. Yes, there are hard times, when you feel like no-one is there to support you, but you aren’t alone. There is help—you just might not be looking hard enough!”
*First names only used by request.