Talking Shop with Maj. Ben Stillwell of the Salvation Army

Monday, December 27, 2010
Maj. Ben Stillwell of the Salvation Army holds a jar of pennies that a man had been saving. The donation would be added to the kettle campaign on Christmas Eve. (Fred Lynch)

Maj. Ben Stillwell leads the Salvation Army in Cape Girardeau all year long, but his organization is most visible during the Christmas season. Salvation Army bell ringers stand next to red kettles around the region raising money to help those in need.

Question: How did you get to where you are now?

Answer: I am a farm boy from Frankfort, Ind. I have served as an officer (minister) in The Salvation Army with my wife for more than 25 years. I came to Cape Girardeau from Jefferson City, Mo. I have been here for more than five years.

Q: For those who only know the Salvation Army as the people who ring the bells, could you explain the purpose and aim of your organization?

A: We are an aggressive arm of the Christian Church. Our mission statement is, "The Salvation Army an international movement, is an evangelical part of the universal Christian Church. Its message is based on the Bible. Its ministry is motivated by the love of God. Its mission is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs in His name without discrimination."

Q: What was your fundraising goal this year?

A: Our Christmas goal for this year is $320,000. We are at $243,480.60, and that represents 76 percent of that goal. Last year we raised $311,889.

Q: The economy has put a strain on charitable organizations. What trends are you seeing in terms of need?

A: We are seeing record numbers of people who are asking and need help. We are seeing new people almost every day.

Q: How do you deal with people who try to abuse the charity system?

A: We want to offer a hand up, and we try to make sure that we are not duplicating services. We have internal and external controls to help see that we do not help abusers abuse. We are a United Way organization, and as such we communicate and coordinate and cooperate to see that we are helping the needy not abusers. We have agreements with United Way, Red Cross, police departments and fire departments that we keep.

Q: What are some new strategies being implemented to try to encourage and increase giving to The Salvation Army?

A: We have been in the newspapers, TV, radio, media with stories and news releases.

Q: How many different people ring bells in Cape Girardeau County?

A: As of Dec. 22 we have had 251 different people including employees and volunteers together.

Q: Has the popularity of debit cards affected the amount money donated in your kettles?

A: Not that we can see. We have one credit/debit card location at Schnucks on our kettle stand there.

Q: When you're not working, how to you like to spend your time?

A: I love sports. I have had two daughters graduate from Southeast and I have really enjoyed seeing events there. I also enjoy deer hunting.

Q: Tell me one of your favorite stories about your work at The Salvation Army.

A: This year in November we had a man who gets help with food and eats with our Meals with Friends program come in with a jar of pennies. It is setting on my desk. He is a senior citizen. He gave the pennies to us for Christmas. He told us that we have helped him and he felt he should help us because we, and I quote, "will need help this year to reach our goal." He gave all he could.

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