St. Thomas Salvation Army Officer Maj. Steve Pearl had what he called a tragic childhood and lost his way early in life, not ever imagining that one day he would become involved in the leadership of a charitable organization.
“I was an angry and bitter young man. And dove into drugs and alcohol in my early teens,” Pearl said.
He credits his wife, Irma, with being a “salvationist,” a term for those who are active members of the Salvation Army.
“After we were married, she insisted on bringing our sons to the Salvation Army. After several years, I accepted my wife’s request to go to a Salvation Army young adults retreat,” Pearl said.
It was at that retreat that Pearl said he accepted Christ as his Lord and Savior.
“I became very involved in the Salvation Army and one year later at the next Salvation Army young adults retreat they had a call to officer-ship. I felt God calling me into the ministry and told my wife, ‘I think God’s calling me to be an officer,’” Pearl said.
He said Irma replied, “Praise God! I’ve been called since I was a little girl. I’ve just been waiting for him to tell you.”
It was the following year Pearl said the couple entered the Salvation Army’s School for Officers and were ordained and commissioned in June of 1989. They now both bear the rank of major.
The Salvation Army is a church, as well as a relief organization. Its mission is “to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs in His name without discrimination,” according to the group’s website.
“To become a member of the Salvation Army one first has to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. They would then take the soldier preparation class to become a member of the Salvation Army,” Pearl said.
“Being an officer has been the most exciting, rewarding and difficult experience I could have imagined. I have been blessed with the opportunity to preach God’s word and help those less fortunate wherever the Salvation Army has sent my wife and I,” Pearl said.
Pearl said in the last year alone the St. Thomas location served more than 24,000 meals during their Monday through Friday feeding program.
The Salvation Army relies on donations to keep services available for programs such as the meal program, Pearl said. The Red Kettle Campaign, which began the day after Thanksgiving, “is the most important fundraiser for our annual budget,” Pearl said. He added all donations received from St. Thomas will be used on St. Thomas for local programs and services. The Salvation Army does do a couple mail appeals for the feeding program during the year, but Pearl said the “kettles are our major yearly fundraising campaign.”
The Salvation Army is also ramping up for a holiday dinner and performance by the Salvation Army youth. Pearl said that will take place at the annual Community Christmas Party, which parents and children who have applied and been approved will attend on Thursday, Dec. 19.
“Santa will be coming to our annual Community Christmas Party to give out gifts to the children whose parents filled out applications at the end of October. There will be opportunities for the parents to take pictures of their children getting gifts from Santa,” Pearl said.
The Salvation Army accepts toy donations at any time and Pearl said, “We will be having Angel Trees at both Kmarts for people to take an angel and purchase a toy for a young person.”
The organization will not hold a food drive during the Christmas season.
“I’m happy to say that there are many organizations that regularly do food drives for us during the year which help a lot, but we can always use more food in the pantry and for the feeding program,” Pearl said.
What the Salvation Army really needs is volunteers, he said. It’s particularly hard to find volunteers to run the kettle during the week and evenings. Those interested can volunteer by calling the Salvation Army office at 340-776-0070 or Pearl’s cell phone at 340-774-1513.
Pearl said they can always use volunteers at the feeding program and thrift store as well.