BELLAIRE - Every office, classroom, church or organization has one person who is the "glue" - the one holding everything together. At the Salvation Army in Bellaire, that person is Glenda Guthrie.
Her job description when she started there in 1990 was more of a receptionist and office manager. Today she still manages the office, but also coordinates the corps' community service program; schedules donation pick-ups; provides agency donation reports to Mid-Ohio Food Bank and Sam's Club; assists the officers with "Coats for Kids" and North East Ohio Salvation Army (NEOSA) summer camp; helps clients find emergency shelter, clothing, food, furniture and heat; and assists with the Christmas "Angel Tree" program. Shelter director Ron Marple notes that Guthrie is "always busy," but this time of year she's BUSY.
Guthrie's three sons were in school, and she thought a part-time job would be nice. A friend told her that the Salvation Army was looking for office help. As it happens, her first day was June 14, 1990 - the day of the WeeGee flood - and she hit the ground running, assisting with the mobile canteen and other emergency services, describing it as "on the job training."
T-L Photo/GLYNIS VALENTI
Glenda Guthrie is December’s “Hey!?That’s My Neighbor” honoree. She has turned a part-time office job into a vocation, working on the front lines at the Salvation Army.
This is her 24th Christmas with the Salvation Army. On any given day late in the year, Guthrie fields more than 100 phone calls, the majority looking for assistance. She recently took a day off to visit her brand new granddaughter and came back to 61 messages. Since the Army serves all of Belmont County, Guthrie, with other churches and organizations, have developed a network to give people more localized referrals and make all of their resources stretch further.
She works with programs at Columbia Gas, Dominion Energy and AEP Ohio to address heating costs for clients. In fact, Guthrie notes, "One of the best parts of my job is calling someone to say, 'You got a $500 grant!' to be able to take away some of that worry and frustration for them.
"The need is greater now. It seems to be getting worse," she continues. "Even we used to have three after school programs and three thrift stores, but the funds aren't there to support them anymore."
Community service programs help fill in some of the empty slots. Guthrie juggles volunteer groups from a wide range of sources to help out at the corps building at 315 37th St. or the warehouse on 33rd St. They wrap gifts at Ohio Valley Mall and stand kettles throughout the county. National Honor Societies collect food for the food pantry. Guthrie called the volunteers from the Chesapeake HELP Initiative "a blessing" when they came in to organize the Angel Tree gifts.
By mid-December, Guthrie was looking at applications for over 500 food baskets and expected that there could be around 200 more by Christmas. Other months she handles around 50 food assistance cases.
"It seems like they just kept coming and coming," she adds, shaking her head. She points out another "change" since she's been involved with this program. "We used to do food baskets or boxes with meals and baked bread from Nickles. We used to give out frozen turkeys, then frozen chickens. Then we went to ham, then canned ham and back to turkey. Now, because people have special diets or maybe need milk and cereal instead of dinner, we do gift cards."
There were more than 1,500 children on the Angel Trees this year, another increase from last year. Guthrie again took the calls and walked families through the application process. She coordinated the distribution days, where families come to pick up the gifts.
Though she is not the shelter director, she has served as interim director and observes that families are staying in the shelter longer while trying to find affordable housing.
"There are more people and families who are working, but they aren't making enough to live on," Guthrie says with concern. "Some afternoons I have to come to my office, sit with the lights off and cry because child services is in the building taking children from parents. I have to tell myself it's for the best."
On days like that, Guthrie goes home to her husband of 42 years, David, and tells him that she wants to find another job. Then she thinks of some of the people she's been able to help, like a proud, elderly woman who reluctantly accepted heating assistance then began calling to chat because she was lonely, or a divorced mother of a 12-year-old boy, working at a deli without benefit of child support, who found out she had cancer.
"She eventually lost her battle with cancer, but she was never 'woe is me, poor me'," Guthrie remembers. "She taught me some important lessons."
Though she asserts she "took the job to talk to people over three feet tall," Guthrie has learned and evolved. The current officers, Majors Louis and Norma Patrick, are the fifth team with whom she has worked. Marple has known Guthrie since she started at the Salvation Army and adds, "The place would fall apart without her."
Guthrie realizes that a unique aspect of her job is being able to comfort people and share her faith, something that her bosses encourage.
"Sometimes it's important for people to just talk with someone," Guthrie affirms. "I get a lot of hugs."
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