I was born and raised in The Salvation Army, so collecting in the annual Red Shield Appeal has long been part of my yearly calendar — as regular as the leaves changing colour come autumn or the sound of bat on ball when summer arrives.
For most of my life, I’ve participated in going from door to door seeking donations to support the work of the Salvos across Australia and, as most long-time collectors will tell you, this leads to stories of weird and wonderful things I’ve been given.
Some years ago I was about 15 minutes into a doorknocking shift and one lady said to me: “Oh, wonderful, I have something very special for you — just a moment.” She closed the door slightly and returned a few minutes later to give me a Milo tin full of coins!
She said: “I’ve been saving up my five cent pieces for you all year. You do a wonderful job. God bless you.” And she closed the door, leaving me with, suddenly, one arm about 20cm longer than the other. The tin was so heavy!
Another year, I came to a corner house that looked quite dilapidated and the garden was very overgrown. I was undecided if I should knock at the door or not but then thought I might as well — no harm in trying. I knocked, waited 30 seconds, knocked again and then got moving.
I was already in front of the next house when I heard someone calling me: “Oh, is that the Salvos?”
I turned around and saw a man in his sixties with a grey beard and ragged clothing. I said that I was collecting for the Red Shield Appeal but, quickly (and judgmentally) summing up his financial status, I said there was no need to give and I would just keep going.
He said: “Oh, oh dear. Um, well, no, I do want to give. Could you wait for a moment?” He headed into his house and I wandered back to his front door, feeling quite poorly about embarrassing someone who was obviously doing life tough.
He emerged a moment later and he said: “I haven’t got much, but I can give you these” — and he held up two shiny, red apples.
Well, that threw me. I’d never been given food before as a donation to the Red Shield Appeal and I considered that I would be carrying them in my collection bag for another hour or so.
I’ll never forget the look in his eye; it was like a 10-year-old presenting an adult with a present he’d made especially for them. There was such a sense of humility about the man that I received the apples graciously and thanked him for his generous gift.
It reminded me of a lesson in the Bible (the book of Mark, chapter 12) when Jesus observes a poor widow place two small coins into the temple offering while other, richer folks are throwing in bigger donations.
Jesus points out to the disciples that she gave more because “she, out of her poverty, put in everything — all she had to live on” (verse 44).
As I took the apples, the man smiled at me, so thrilled that he could give; that he could participate. He wasn’t someone who sought help; he was someone who helped others.
The Red Shield Appeal is a time when Australians can participate in helping others. It’s a time when everyone can become part of the solution.
It’s a time when you can think of your neighbour and your community and especially those in need and say: “Hang on, I can help there.”
It was just two apples and it was long ago, but I can still see the look in that man’s eyes.
Mal Davies is a Salvation Army officer serving in Geelong