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Salvation Army attacks poverty, hunger

The Salvation Army of Polk and St. Croix Counties has been slowly ramping up its services to the needy during the ongoing national recession.

But while many people in the region have heard about Grace Place homeless shelter in Somerset, the non-profit organization's efforts go far beyond that facility.

According to Duana Bremer, the local director for The Salvation Army, dozens of people get the helping hand they need from a variety of programs offered.

"We do a lot of stuff," she said. "Things that people don't realize."

Apart from Grace Place, the local Salvation Army chapter also operates the House of Blessing shelter in Osceola (which provides a home for a single family), Harmony House in Somerset (which just recently opened) and the Serenity Home in Balsam Lake (which provides shelter for 18 individuals in a converted county jail building).

When individuals and families live in the area shelters, Bremer explained, they also receive food, medicines, health care, personal care items, educational opportunities, counseling and employment services.

When children are housed in the shelters, the Salvation Army provides tutoring services so they can improve their performance at school.

"Every kid at the shelter is usually a year and a half behind in school," Bremer said.

Bremer said many of the volunteer tutors they use are retired teachers from the area.

The Salvation Army offers transportation help for residents at the shelters so that they can find employment, make it to medical appointments or attend other important meetings.

Families and individuals are also offered a six-week budgeting class that helps them live within their means when they eventually move into their own homes.

The Salvation Army often helps families find cars, with the help of a local church. Clients get a functional vehicle free of charge, but they are required to work with a budget mentor for a year and apply in order to qualify for the program.

The organization also is a key player in the Happy Kids Backpack program, which is provided to students in the Somerset, New Richmond, Amery and St. Croix Falls schools, as well as the Polk County Head Start program. Families in the program receive backpacks stocked with food on Fridays to tide hungry kids over during the weekend. Families that qualify for free or reduced lunches in school also qualify for the backpack effort.

The Salvation Army's successful "Moola for Milk" program attempts to stem hunger in the region as well. Milk coupons are provided to food shelves in St. Croix Polk and Pierce counties and clients use the coupons to pick up a gallon of milk from a local grocery store. In 2009, the program provided more than 13,000 gallons of milk to families in need in the two counties.

In Amery, the Salvation Army has partnered with First Baptist Church to provide lunch for needy families from Mondays through Fridays. The organization also provides rent, utility, emergency shelter and dental services to those in need, Bremer noted.

A new Salvation Army offering this summer is a field trip program for children staying at Grace Place.

The shelter is organizing daily activities (Mondays through Thursdays in the summer) to get the kids out in the community and provide the youngsters with educationally stimulating trips.

To help fund the Salvation Army's numerous and expanding programs, the organization is planning a new fundraiser from 1-3:30 p.m. Sunday, May 6.

"Quilts of Comfort and Hope" will be offered at Ready Randy's and R&D Catering, 1490 - 131st St. Tickets are $15 in advance and $20 at the door. Funds raised will be used for the continued operation of Grace Place and Serenity Home.

The event will include a presentation by Darcy Thompson, who will talk about the stories that each quilt tells. For more information or tickets, call Serenity Home at 715-485-1221 or Ready Randy's at 715-246-4446.