We’ve all seen them. We’ve all heard the bells. We’ve all dropped quarters or pennies into the kettles as we hustle about doing our Christmas shopping.

While they’ve become synonymous with Christmas, the Salvation Army kettle bell ringers are really working one month to provide blessings for people in need throughout the entire year.

Captain Lorraina Crawford, who along with her husband Joseph serves as Corps Officers for this area, says that the mission of the Salvation Army is simple and still is based on the methods started by the group’s founder, General William Booth, in England in 1865.

“In order to take care of someone’s spirituality, we must first take care of their physical, emotional and social needs,” said Lorraina, who says that the Salvation Army has been at work in the Paducah area since 1907.

Today, the local chapter, which serves McCracken, Livingston and Marshall Counties, operates three entities under one umbrella out of two Paducah locations. The Salvation Army Thrift Store, where those in need can find low-cost clothing and housewares, is located on Irvin Cobb Road.

The same facility is home to the social services division, which provides assistance to anyone in need who meets the organization’s qualifications, which are considered on a case-by-case level.

“There is a big misconception about who we help,” says Lorraina. “We see a lot of people working part-time or minimum-wage jobs and who are working hard to make their food last all month.” She adds that they primarily sees requests for assistance from families, which the group classifies as any parent with at least one child.

“A lot of people struggle to make ends meet,” says Lorraina. “It is very easy to judge people who are struggling,” adds Joseph. “But it is hard to get down and help those people.”

The Salvation Army is open to assistance for any need and on any level, according to the Crawfords. The group provides clothing and furniture vouchers, vouchers for needed medical equipment, utility and housing assistance, transportation and food, compiling approximately 250-300 food baskets per month.

“If a person is hungry, that’s our only qualification,” said Joseph Crawford. Lorraina adds that the group “tries our very best to never deny food” even going so far as offering heater meals for someone who arrives at the facility in need of an urgent meal.

At the group’s other facility located on Trimble Street, the Corps Community Center, the couple works with Salvation Army Mission Specialist Joey Dickinson to help meet the spiritual needs of the community through regular church services, bible study groups and character-building services for kids and teens. That facility also offers open gym and recreational activities, a need that Lorraina Crawford recognized first-hand.

“I was driving around and noticed an increase in kids walking around that neighborhood with nothing to do,” she says.

Those same kids now have available to them a free and safe recreational area with volunteers who help to ensure that their time is filled with positive outreach.

The organization, which has very few paid employees, doesn’t ask for anything in exchange for the services that they provide, which is just fine with the Crawford’s.

“Love God and love people,” says Lorraina of why she is a Salvationist. “We believe God wants us to show our love for him through love for his people. We reach the least, the last and the lost.”

The Salvation Army way of life was ingrained into Lorraina, who is a fifth-generation Salvationist and says that she grew up seeing her parents helping people and the sacrifices that they made for that goal.

Becoming a Salvationist was quite the opposite for Joseph, who says that when he met his wife and found the Salvation Army through her, it was an instant fit for his desire to minister to others through giving.

The couple’s passion for their calling is apparent as they begin telling about the people that they have helped.

“Sometimes you do get overburdened, but then you get a holiday card like we did this year,” said Lorraina as she unfolds the picture and card. “It included a picture of her kids and she thanked us for being a blessing to them this year.”

Joseph lights up when he talks about a few of their outstanding bell ringers. Mable, who traditionally rings outside of Hobby Lobby and has been making quite an impression with her song and dance, was convinced that she “couldn’t get a job” until Joseph told her otherwise. Now she regularly raises more than $10,000 herself for the organization. The same story applies to another ringer named Jeremy, who suffers from several mental disorders but still brings joy to people he greets.

“People like them have value and are a gift from God,” says Joseph. “They have so much value but they need Salvation to open it up.”

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