It’s not in my nature to stand on the sidelines.
Throughout my years, I’ve worked to make life better for the residents of Washington state. You elected me to be your Secretary of State five times, but I’ve also been a volunteer and board member focused on handicapped kids, wildlife conservation, election integrity and disability rights.
Even now, I lead a group that provides dinner for 200 homeless people every month in Olympia. I organize the crew, purchase the food and serve the meal at our local Salvation Army kitchen. For more than three decades, I have stood at the red kettle to ring the bell for The Salvation Army with my family and many friends during the holiday season.
That’s why I took notice when the red kettles disappeared from Nordstrom stores this year. According to a December Seattle Times story [“Longtime bell-ringer outside Nordstrom loses his perch as Salvation Army wrestles with image around LGBTQ stance,” Dec. 24, Northwest], some Nordstrom employees were uncomfortable with the presence of The Salvation Army bell ringer. They cite a destructive narrative that claims The Salvation Army refuses to serve members of the LGBTQ community.
I refuse to stand on the sidelines on this issue. In my experience with The Salvation Army, they have always helped anyone who has sought their assistance (assuming they had the resources to do so). As one of the largest providers of compassionate care for people in poverty in the U.S., they serve everyone.
Here in the Puget Sound region, The Salvation Army serves tens of thousands of people every year. I’ve seen the diversity of the people helped, and it’s a reflection of our community — neighbors of many ages, ethnicities, religions and yes, LGBTQ friends among them. Every person was treated with love and dignity.
In my many years serving food at the local kitchen, I have never seen a person turned away. Not one.
I have watched people of all faiths and backgrounds come through the door for a hot meal. A young runaway girl who is scared to death and needs shelter and counseling; a working poor family that is out money for food before month’s end; a family of six whose breadwinner was recently injured on the job; a disabled man who has no arms and needs to be fed, and the list goes on and on. Gay, straight, transgender, people of different ethnicities, homeless people, kids, elderly people on fixed incomes and more. You name it, we serve them all.
Please understand, I don’t want anyone to feel marginalized or afraid at the sight or sound of a bell ringer. I hope The Salvation Army and Nordstrom will work things out. For me, it’s the despair of men and women — and many times children — living in tent communities in our state that’s uncomfortable. It’s a painful, visible breakdown in our society, and we must do better.
Homelessness has become one of the most significant humanitarian crises of our time. Solving it will require a willingness for government agencies, the corporate world, nonprofits and churches to take a stand on common ground, and work together in new and powerful ways.
No other organization has the reach, the experience, the professionalism and the staying power of The Salvation Army. As a Christian organization, their religious conviction inspires and compels their work, not limits it.
In my opinion, not working with The Salvation Army because of a destructive false narrative would be a mistake. On behalf of the people of Washington state who need the help provided, let’s resolve the problem. And all of us need to remember, The Salvation Army serves everyone in need.