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Sally Ann celebrates 125 years of service in New Westminster

Young Elizabeth Coffin arrived in a rainy, muddy, cold New Westminster winter eager to spread the gospel to the heathens in the pubs and the downtrodden on the street.

Several months before, Coffin's American Salvation Army superiors had sent an officer to British Columbia to see if it was a place the church should set up a ministry, and New Westminster with its wild-west atmosphere was a prime place for their work. So they assigned Coffin to the Royal City with a mission to save souls.

"She came in and opened fire, as we call it, on March 4, 1888," says New Westminster Salvation Army citadel business manager Doug Fynn. "There were a lot of people who were not happy with the Salvation Army being here. They came here not to have their souls saved, particularly from an upstart woman."

Coffin and an assistant established an office at Clarkson and Eighth streets with tents for meetings. They'd hit the streets, beer parlours and farmers markets inviting anyone and everyone to their meetings. Frequently their reception wasn't friendly, with only their bonnets to protect their heads from the rotten tomatoes and eggs tossed their way.

"They were very convinced of what they were doing," says Sharon Tidd, the ministry's leader and pastor.

What those two young women started in those trying times 125 years ago has grown into an organization and ministry that serves New West and the Tri-Cities area with numerous programs to help those who need it most.

The Salvation Army marks the important anniverary this weekend with several special and regular activities they're calling Soup, Soap and Salvation—soup to feed the hungry, soap to clean people up and provide them with a home, and salvation for their souls.

"William Booth, our founder, felt if people were hungry or had nowhere to live there was no way they were interested in Salvation, so you had to look after the first two needs before you can do salvation," says Tidd.

Fynn says carrying out that mission was a tough task in those days, pointing out the New Westminster ministry went though 25 officers in its first 12 years.

"There was no monetary support because there was no funds," says Fynn. "They had to raise money to operate. People were [skeptical], and they still are leery of groups that help out."

• • • • •

But the army soldiered on. After a few locations, a church was set up near the original office at 66 Eighth St. in 1908 before moving into its present location on Sixth Street at Blackford. Their recruitment strategies included a brass band parading through the streets and pubs just like the one depicted in the musical play and Frank Sinatra movie Guys and Dolls. Brass band music will be featured in the Saturday evening salvation meeting this weekend.

"They did anything and everything they could," says Fynn. "There was a need then, there's a need now so it has continued through ... The longer the army was here, the happier people were to have us here."

Amongst its work these days, the Salvation Army operates Stevenson House, a men's shelter offering 10 one-night emergency beds and help getting them education, employment or stable housing they can afford. Bridge House is an eight-bed transition facility for those who are in recovery for one reason or another but aren't ready to be out on their own.

The Army also has the Holy Rollers painting company that provides jobs to down-on-their-luck unemployed, and the Sweet Dreams program that distributes bedding and other household supplies to low-income people. The Army's family services office offers food and clothing hampers to families going through an emergency. Other services include income tax preparation, pro bono legal work, counselling, and sending kids and families to camps.

It also offers a community brunch every Saturday morning, a community lunch following their Sunday service, and a new fruit and veggie program on Wednesday afternoons.

The national office runs the Salvation Army thrift store on Columbia Street, but the New Westminster citadel receives enough donation and funding that it doesn't have to rely on any money from it.

"We've been blessed," says Tidd, who preaches to about 70-80 people every Sunday. "It's not a huge congregation when you consider how much they do for the organization."

The celebrations begin Friday (March 1) with a team jam and worship service featuring Christian rock music starting at 7 p.m. The Saturday morning community brunch will go on as usual starting at 10 a.m., followed at 1 p.m. by an outdoor celebration at Hyack Square with cake, coffee and children's activities. The Saturday evening salvation meeting at 7 p.m. will have brass band and traditional music while Sunday morning's 11 a.m. service will be followed by the usual community lunch. Monday (March 4) has been declared Salvation Army Day in New Westminster. The organization also plans to take its vintage truck 'Huey' and the Sally Ann Lassies out and about serving free coffee and doughnuts this week.

By The Numbers

Salvation Army's presence in New Westminster by the numbers:

125 – Years since it was established

25 – Officers the Salvation Army went through in its first 12 years in New West

1905 – The year New Westminster's Raine family joined the Salvation Army. One of its members, retired Major Betty Raine, is now in her 80s and is still active in the ministry.

10 – Emergency beds at Stevenson House, a men's shelter run by the Salvation Army for 40 years.

4,000 – Bed nights spent a year at Stevenson House.

8 – Beds at Bridge House, a transition facility for those in recovery but not ready to be out on their own

20-40 – People served at its Saturday morning brunch two years ago.

50-100+ – People served at its Saturday morning community brunches in 2013.

40-80 – Food and hampers distributed weekly.

100-120 – People served at its Wednesday afternoon community fruit, vegetable and dairy event.

25 – Children who get to experience summer camp because of Army funding.

70-80 – Members who worship Sunday.

50 – Soldiers in the New Westminster citadel.

20-30 – Adherents in the New Westminster citadel.

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