After receiving generosity at Christmas, volunteer gives back with The Salvation Army

After receiving generosity at Christmas, volunteer gives back with The Salvation Army

Emma Casebolt waved her arms and laughed with joy as she directed traffic at the Adopt-a-Family Christmas distribution in Sacramento this past Christmas. Her enthusiasm blossoms from her story, like many Salvation Army volunteers.

Years ago, Casebolt’s son wanted a Stretch Armstrong for Christmas—the gift on many six-year-old boy’s lists in 1998—but Casebolt couldn’t afford the flexible action figure or other toys as a single mom, working two jobs to try to keep food in the fridge.

Then, she received what felt like a random phone call.

“The lady on the line introduced herself as someone from the courts and said she wanted to adopt my kids for Christmas,” Casebolt said. “I was like, ‘No, you can’t take my kids,” she added. “But then she explained that it was through The Salvation Army and they wanted to give us a Christmas.”

Casebolt felt like her kids would receive the greatest gift ever by being adopted for Christmas, but when the lady called back and asked what Casebolt wanted as well, she cried. “You want to give everything to your kids, you know?” she said. “But they not only wanted to love on my kids, but on me as well.”

When Casebolt drove to distribution day with her mom, volunteers streamed to the car, loading more and more things. “They gave us Stretch Armstrong and the car and little buddy that went with him—and my son was the happiest kid ever,” she said. “They gave us a Christmas tree. They even gifted me clothes for job interviews.”

Receiving generosity as a client with The Salvation Army’s Christmas giveaways stirred a longing in Casebolt to want to do the same for others.

In 2003, Casebolt’s family stopped going through the line for Christmas gifts. In 2004, she took her daughter to start helping distribute gifts to others. Once she found herself in a more stable financial position, she also started recruiting co-workers to help her adopt a family.

“Volunteering is my way of giving back,” she said. “I wish I could adopt lots of families, but what can I do? I can create a team of people to adopt a family. I can volunteer for distribution. I can be the person who helped my family those years ago.”

For Casebolt, the blessing is knowing her sacrifice of time and resources is helping others the same way she needed support years ago.
Social Services Officer Captain Larry Carmichael oversees the Sacramento distribution, among other social services with The Salvation Army, and notes how volunteering impacts those who serve, like Casebolt.

“We tend to think of volunteers as a resource we tap into to help us,” Carmichael said. “We fail to realize volunteers are also a part of our ministry because they need to give back for their own mental or emotional health, for a purpose in their own lives.”

Carmichael shared a story about a retired gentleman he knew who served in a food pantry with him in a previous assignment. Whenever Carmichael asked this volunteer to help with anything—to take someone to a doctor’s appointment, grocery store—whatever—this gentleman would go.

“I finally had to ask him, ‘Why?’ Why did he serve at the drop of a hat?” Carmichael said.

It turns out, the man had experienced alcoholism, but had quit drinking. But when he retired, he found himself at home, drinking too much again. He needed purpose—he needed a job to do.

“Volunteering saved my life,” the gentleman told Carmichael. “Thank you for allowing me to be a part of it.”

Do Good:

  • You’ve probably seen the red kettles and thrift stores, and while we’re rightfully well known for both…The Salvation Army is so much more than red kettles and thrift stores. So who are we? What do we do? Where? Right this way for Salvation Army 101.
  • Have you ever found yourself wanting to volunteer but unsure of what to do or how to go about it? Here’s the key: You can make an impact in the Fight for Good with whatever time and skills you have. Whatever your interest, there is a you-sized need for goodness in the world. Get the guide on How To Be An Impactful Volunteer with 9 habits to make a difference when giving back.
  • Learn how The Salvation Army recognizes volunteers in the Southwestern U.S.
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Seana Scott

Seana Scott writes and speaks for ministry and is passionate about helping others know God’s Word, walk with God, and live with purpose. She is a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary and writes in between all things motherhood while raising three kids with her pastor husband, Jason. You can connect with her at or on Instagram @Seana_S_Scott.