Homer: a small corps meeting great needs

Doing the Most Good- Alaska

Located at the “end of the road” on the Kenai Peninsula is a community where the population hovers around 5,000 in the winter and swells to 10,000 in the summer. Here the Homer Corps, under the leadership of Captains Mark and Michelle Thielenhaus, is doing the most good in typical Alaskan fashion—and that includes feeding the hungry.

When given two moose by the state troopers, who confiscated them from hunters, Thielenhaus and CSM Ray Steiner skinned the animals themselves before taking them to the local butcher to cut and package the meat. One animal weighed 600 and the other 500 pounds.

Captain Michelle Thielenhaus added that the corps’ social services then distributed it to clients. She noted that it cost them just $320 to process 500 pounds of meat; at the local grocery store hamburger costs over $5 a pound.

The corps’ 5,000 square foot thrift store is a key part of the corps’ financial solvency: generating $240,000 in sales to the public last year. “We have no debt to divisional or territorial headquarters,” said Captain Mark. “The Salvation Army here is self supporting, with only a red loan (mortgage for the loan on the thrift store and corps building).

The store, which is clean, neat and well organized, has been called the town’s department store. There is no other major retailer in Homer and the nearest Wal-Mart is four hours away. “We try to make sure everything here gets a second shot at life,” Thielenhaus noted. “If an item is on the floor for six weeks and hasn’t sold, it is given away for free. What we can’t use, we give to the mental health program; books go to the senior center or the library. Nothing goes to waste in this town.”

As one of three social service agencies in Homer, the Army provides 100 families a month with food boxes. Many are delivered to homes that have no running water or electricity. They also provide help with rent and eviction prevention, utilities, and thrift store vouchers, all of which can make an enormous difference for those living in a community based on seasonal employment, with a transient population.

The corps provides a spiritual anchor as well. In the last four years Sunday attendance has doubled, from 15 to 30. With the removal of the two mobile homes that had served as corps building and quarters for the past 14 years, and the construction of a new 6,370 square foot building with a chapel that will seat 100 (and plenty of room for classrooms and social service distributions) the Homer Corps is well equipped to continue significant expansion.

“Homer will always be good for The Salvation Army,” said Steiner, who was recognized by New Frontier as a Trailblazer in 2003. “People respond to the Army here.”

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