Valley City shows how Service Extension is done
The Salvation Army’s Service Extension Unit in Valley City, North Dakota, has been on a fundraising tear in recent years, using the extra money it’s raised to fund programs that are serving more than a tenth of the entire city.
“Last year we helped 840 people in Valley City, and we only have 6,500 people in town,” said Lee Isensee (pictured above), who’s led the four-person unit for the past decade. “I’ve grown up here and can’t believe the amount of people who are hurting in this tiny little community.”
Service Extension Units consist of one or more volunteers who provide Salvation Army services in less-populated regions of Minnesota and North Dakota (see video at bottom). The units are found in every Minnesota and North Dakota county that does not already include a Salvation Army operation center, ensuring that The Salvation Army can serve absolutely everywhere there’s a need. Each unit is funded almost exclusively by kettle donations.
The Valley City unit raised almost $60,000 in kettle donations last Christmas season, up from around $40,000 several years ago. All of this money is being put to good use, such as:
- Rent and utility assistance. “With the North Dakota economy booming, rent prices have gone up throughout the state,” Isensee said.
- An expanded food program. Not long ago, people were allowed one food basket four times a year. Now they can get an additional $50 food voucher four times a year.
- A prison outreach program. “There were many people being let out of jail and then dumped into the city, with nowhere to go, or no way to get anything,” Isensee said. “We’ve been buying them bus tickets, meals, and motel rooms until someone can come and get them.”
- Transportation assistance. “That’s one of the biggest ones right now – I think we spent $5,000 last year buying automobile gas for people,” Isensee said.
The extra money available for these programs has had much to do with the efforts of volunteer Joe Lunde, who took charge of coordinating the Valley City kettle campaign four years ago. He’s worked extra hard to recruit bell ringers through word of mouth, radio announcements and other avenues.
“I’m not responsible for this,” a humble Lunde said. “It’s the people I work with, and the people who are giving. They’re sacrificing what little they have to help others.”
Just like other small communities, most of the people served in Valley City have jobs but don’t always earn enough to make ends meet.
“They’re the working poor, and it’s almost impossible for some of them to get out of the situation they’re in,” Isensee said. “We have an obligation to do the best job we can for The Salvation Army and the people of Valley City, to help them get through difficult points in their life, so at least they can see there’s hope.”
Isensee said he tries to live his life according to Matthew 25, and believes his volunteer efforts mirror this Bible verse.
“When I was hungry you fed me, when I was in prison you came to visit me, when I was naked you clothed me – The Salvation Army fits perfectly into that,” he said. “It’s by the grace of God that the people put money in the kettles, and it’s by the grace of God that He has given us the ability to administrate this money.”
Join Service Extension
No matter where you live, The Salvation Army can use you to help others.
“We’re always looking for more individuals to come on as Service Extension recruits,” said Cody Kill, one of six Service Extension representatives in Minnesota and North Dakota. Kill and the others serve as facilitators for Salvation Army Service Extension activities in their respective regions, all of which cover thousands of square miles.
“If you live in some of these outlying areas and would like to get involved, please contact us,” Kill continued. “Anybody can help, anywhere.”
The following counties are short on Service Extension volunteers:
- Minnesota: Benton, Lyon, Pope, Stearns, Swift, Waseca
- North Dakota: Benson, Bottineau, Burke, Cavalier, Dickey, Dunn, McHenry, Oliver, Ranson, Renville, Sargent, Towner, Traill