MARQUETTE COUNTY - Although pictures of kids donating and receiving toys collected during the annual Cheer Club makes the work of the Salvation Army more visible during the holiday season, the work and help provided by the Marquette and Ishpeming corps don't stop once the Christmas trees come down.
"It's 113 years that we've been serving the community for those in need," said Walter Sleeter, director of operations for the Marquette corps.
The Ishpeming corps was started even earlier, in 1865, said Liz Nevala, a spokeswoman for the Ishpeming branch.
The need for help over the holidays is up and the Salvation Army in Marquette and Ishpeming are working to make sure families, kids and individuals don’t go without. Here, volunteer Audrey Puuri organizes some donated items at the Ishpeming Salvation Army. (Journal photo by Johanna Boyle)
The two branches serve a large portion of the central Upper Peninsula, with the Marquette corps serving those living in Marquette Township east through Alger County and the Ishpeming corps serving from Negaunee Township west to Baraga County.
Besides helping with toys and Christmas gifts during the holidays, both corps are busy throughout the year providing free meals, assistance with rent and utilities and providing activities for families, kids and young adults.
"We served 8,000 people with difference services including utilities, rental, bus tickets and the food pantry," Nevala said.
The Marquette corps also sees a great need for its services and assistance.
"Last month we did over 2,200 free meals," Sleeter said. Over 400 kids are registered at the corps recreation center at K.I Sawyer. Conservatively, Sleeter estimated the Marquette corps assisted 5,000 families in 2009.
This year in particular, due to the economy, both Ishpeming and Marquette corps reported greatly increased need for both food and assistance.
The Ishpeming branch has reported need for holiday assistance being up 30 percent from last year.
"This year it's even more. Our food donation requests has gone up 80 percent," Sleeeter said. Community lunches, served daily, have gone up from 800-900 each month to over 2,000.
Monetary donations have also been affected by the bad economy, down about $37,000 for the year in Marquette.
Nevala said she was also seeing requests from families and individuals for aid who have not previously needed assistance.
"They've never had to ask for help before and it's hard for them," she said.
Even with increased need and people unable to donate as much as in the past, both Nevala and Sleeter said filling those needs no matter what is what the Salvation Army is all about.
"It's an extreme pleasure for us to serve the people of the Upper Peninsula. The people in the U.P. are very gracious and caring people who give generiously," Sleeter said.
Those wishing to make an impact on a local family this Christmas can do so by dropping off toys, gifts, books or clothing off to for the 31st annual Mining Journal and Salvation Army Cheer Club.
Cheer Club items can be dropped off in the following locations: Marquette Township offices, Ace Hardware in Gwinn, the information desk in the main lobby at Bell Hospital in Ishpeming and Wells Fargo Bank in Negaunee. Items can also be dropped off at The Mining Journal's offices in Marquette and Ishpeming. Items will be accepted until the third week in December, when they will be distributed to children and families around the area.