Seventeen-year-old Ken Locke was lured through the doors of the Salvation Army in 1975 by three enticements: volleyball, girls and food.
“Not necessarily in that order,” he quipped.
That began a 42-year involvement with the charitable organization that is still going strong.
Locke began volunteering for the Salvation Army not long after his initial visit and later became a full-time administrator.
He has served as the Warsaw chapter’s community ministries director for 20 years, primarily “overseeing the people coming in for assistance in the food pantry at Christmastime and in crisis situations.”
Every month about 250 families avail themselves of the free foodstuffs at the “choice pantry,” where recipients can shop for their own items.
“Generally we see about 4,000 people — unduplicated — each year,” said Locke. “That number is fairly consistent from year to year.”
He also oversees the chapter’s signal ministry, Pathway of Hope, a program “to move people from poverty to self-sufficiency.”
According www.sawarsaw.org: “A case manager works intensively with a small number of families to help them achieve short- and long-term goals through collaboration and accessing community resources.
“Pathway of Hope helps client families by:
• Empowering them to achieve change by recognizing their inherent strengths and skills
• Developing an action plan that includes personal goals
• Providing relevant Salvation Army services
• Referring families to appropriate community resources”
Locke was drawn to the Salvation Army because its ministry represented “Christianity with its sleeves rolled up.”
“The (Salvation) Army fit my personality and gifting,” he said. “It provided something tangible. It was a perfect fit for me.”
Locke has seen several significant changes in the charitable industry during his four decades of service.
“The biggest thing that has changed is the ‘traditional welfare family’ doesn’t exist anymore,” he noted. “You can’t put a generic face on it. It can be a lot a different people, from the single mother piecing together two or three jobs to make ends meet to grandparents taking care of grandkids primarily because of a drug situation.
“The drug epidemic is touching all people. It is not a poverty problem; it is everybody’s problem. It is more widespread and out in the open.”
Technology has helped ministries better serve their communities, he said. Computers have increased communication between agencies and have helped eliminate duplication of services by allowing cross-checking of recipient databases.
“There are a lot more agencies than there used to be,” he said, “so collaboration is the name of the game now. The more we can orchestrate, the better. The problems have always been bigger than any one agency can handle.”
But nothing will replace the personal touch, according to Locke.
“I think the most important thing is you have to stay focused on people one at a time. We are not so much a program as we are relational. We want people to have skin in the game, to invest themselves in themselves.”
The Warsaw Salvation Army, located at 501 E. Arthur St., is “always looking for food donations for the pantry.”
Monetary donations may also be dropped off at the office. The Salvation Army also collects coats, towels, dishcloths and similar items for families rebuilding after a home fire.
For more information, call Locke at (574) 267-5361 or visit www.sawarsaw.org.