Trash and Treasure
by Steve Garrington
SOMETIMES in the middle of the chaos of a disaster relief operation, usually when you least expect it, you see something that grabs and holds your attention. A sight that becomes imbedded in your mind and becomes the picture that will forever be the key to that time of your life.
A Salvation Army canteen gives out emergency food supplies
In June 2008 the '200-year' flood that no one expected inundated the towns along the Cedar River in Iowa, USA. One of the worst-hit towns was Cedar Rapids, where 20,000 people, fully a fifth of its population, became homeless overnight. In many cases the river water filled the basement, then the first storey and was several inches deep on the next one as well.
The main business street had six feet of dirty, muddy river water flowing the wrong way down a one-way street. The governor called up the National Guard, and the local Salvation Army (itself with a basement full of water) began to respond to the needs of the victims.
|This photograph (from Getty Images) shows the extent of the flooding|
|Wrecked but once precious possessions line the roads|
|A Salvation Army worker gives food and a word of encouragement|
|Debris is piled up as people try to get their lives and homes back together|
|Clean-up workers take a break by the Salvation Army canteen|
|A young girl takes in the message but the sandbags along the path are a reminder of what the community has been through|
Perhaps every Salvation Army responder to that Cedar Rapids flood had a special memory; a vision they took back to their homes. Mine came well after the floodwaters had receded and the work of restoration had begun.
The land between the sidewalks and the street had become a mountain range of rubbish. All manner of items had been taken out of homes and piled in great heaps waiting for the city trucks to come and haul it away.
The piles consisted of refrigerators, pianos, water heaters, mattresses, every imaginable kind of waterlogged furniture, soggy dry wall, kids' toys and mud-soaked rags that had once been the contents of closets and chests of drawers. But one piece of trash, on one very special pile, is forever burned in my memory.
We had been delivering lunches to the many people working on their homes. Although many people could not yet return, those who had were beginning the filthy task of cleaning up. The gas and electricity had not yet been restored and they had no way to feed themselves or the friends and family members who came to help. That was where The Salvation Army stepped in.
From 10 til noon The Salvation Army canteen had been slowly cruising up one street and down another in the residential area that had been flooded on the north-west side.
We handed out sack lunches, chips, snacks and a great deal of water and energy drinks in places that only days earlier had the wild Cedar River flowing through streets, yards and homes. At noon we would stop at a school and pass out the rest of our lunches and then return for resupply and the 'supper run'. By this method The Salvation Army was giving out 4,000 meals a day.
As the driver slowly picked his way through streets still littered with 'tire-eating' trash, I absent-mindedly gazed through the window. The canteen stopped for a moment to let a power company truck go by and my eyes fell on a chest-high pile of trash just outside my door. On the very top was a picture frame. The frame had been broken where the top piece met the left side. The glass was shattered right in the middle, and there was a coating of mud and silt, and the remains of dirty water. It was a large picture; one of those 14-by-18-inch types you get when you buy the package and get one large, two 8-by-10s, four 5-by-7s and more wallet-size photos than you have people to send them to.
Through the coating of flood residue I could just make out four faces in a diamond pattern. I realised that once this photo had been a family treasure. Once it had been proudly hung on a wall in someone's home. It had been admired by visitors and family members. Perhaps Mom had gazed up at it from her housework and had pause for a moment to remember when the children were so small. But now ... now it was just another piece of water-soaked garbage to be sent away to some nameless landfill. There, beneath other trash and garbage and flood-soaked drywall, it would decay and be lost forever.
As I write, six months after the flood, the clean-up is not yet complete. The Salvation Army still meets the physical, spiritual and emotional needs of the people of Cedar Rapids. And I can still see a broken picture on a pile of trash.
But that broken photograph has a lesson to teach. It struck me that the job of The Salvation Army is to make sure people are not like that picture. Its mission is to find these treasures on the garbage heaps of the world; to collect these 'broken pictures' and carefully clean them and restore them to their true value.
In each human face we see a priceless piece of God's handiwork that needs to be returned to its place of honour. Its frame may have been broken by pride, its glass shattered by hate and anger, its colour faded by the dirty water of drugs or alcohol and its edges torn by guilt and revenge, but with work and faith it will one day be restored.
In God's eyes, in the eyes of The Salvation Army, every person is a piece of God's treasure - not trash, not ever.
Steve Garrington is Divisional Gift Adviser in the Heartland Division of The Salvation Army's USA Central
FOR most people, retirement brings an opportunity to slow down and have a little more 'me' time. Lots of people enjoy the freedom of being able to go where they want, when they want - visiting friends or seeing the grandchildren. So it was for Peter and Phyllis Bowman of Blairsville, Georgia, who were touring in their Winnebago (motorhome) when their plans took a dramatic twist.
Peter and Phyllis were taking a long, leisurely trip to a Winnebago rally. They had stopped at a campground in Oelwein, Iowa, and had gone through the usual tasks of setting up their campsite. Neighbours had been greeted and the usual pleasantries exchanged, the fire built and the supper started. Phyllis decided to catch up on the news and turned on the television.
The lead news story was about floods in Iowa, not too far away from where they were staying. They looked at each other. They felt compassion for those who were losing so much so quickly. Phyllis told her husband they had to help. 'How? Where? Who?' was his reply. She looked at him and almost together they said, 'The Salvation Army.'
Waterloo was near so they headed in that direction and soon were busy making sandwiches by the hundred. A few days later they were on one of The Salvation Army's emergency canteens, passing out food to those in need.
As the floodwater receded in Waterloo they rose in Cedar Rapids and the Bowmans were on their way. They ended up serving several hundred meals a day in the devastated little community of Palo. Phyllis enjoyed talking to the people and Peter enjoyed keeping the truck, the tent and generator clean, neat and running perfectly.
The muddy, dirty, flood-ravaged streets of Cedar Rapids are a long way from the tree-covered hills and little towns of north-east Georgia. But the people are not so different.
Salvation Army officer Major Gerald O'Neil, who worked with Peter and Phylis, says, 'We were lucky ... no, we were blessed to have the Bowmans show up at our door.' Captain Mark Haslett echoes this praise with words of his own: 'I praise God that he sends us volunteers like the Bowmans.'
There are a lot of other people who would like to thank them as well. People who received a sandwich, a cookie and an apple when they were hungry. People who received a bottle of water when they were thirsty. People who received a smile, a handshake or a hug when they were exhausted. People who received a listening ear when they had a story they needed to tell.
Below: Peter and Phylis Bowman hard at work in a distribution centre