Most people don't think of the Salvation Army as a barrel of laughs. But I do.
I have always believed you can do serious work with a light heart and that is exactly what I found when I attended my first meeting of the Salvation Army Citizens Advisory Board in 1984.
The first "light hearts" I encountered were Majors Bertha Harris and Ruth Pryce. They were devoted to the cause and they sure took their work seriously, but they were also a real hoot. One day Ruth told the story of going to the cupboard in their humble kitchen in their humble home planning to cook up some spaghetti for supper. But all she found was a box of pasta. Where was the jar of sauce she saw sitting next to it just the day before? She immediately went looking for Bertha.
"This couple came in for food," Bertha said, "and all we had in the pantry was a few boxes of spaghetti. I couldn't give them spaghetti without something to dump on it, now could I?"
"And what are we going to dump on our spaghetti?" Ruth asked, laughing all the while.
I've told you about these two characters before, so please forgive me for repeating some of their antics. I typically save this stuff for Christmas, but I have a purpose which I'll explain in a minute. First a little more on Salvation Army fun.
It was Bertha who gave the financial report at the first board meeting I attended. The balance in the treasury was something like $285. When Bertha said that, she made sure her eyes met mine on the opposite side of the table. It was like she was saying, "See what you've gotten yourself into?" Even then, though, those eyes were smiling.
At every meeting Ruth shared a little anecdote similar to the one about the sauce. One year as Christmas approached, she told how the old van she was using had broken down right in the middle of delivering food baskets. Stranded on the side of a street on a dark, frigid night, she said it was time to have a little chat with God. "Lord," she said, "you know I never question you and if what you want on this cold night is for me to leave the van here and walk home, I am willing to do that. But there are a lot of people counting on these baskets, so if it's all the same to you, I'd appreciate if this van would start up." With that, she turned the key and the van started.
"You know," Jimmy Condosta, board treasurer at the time, added, "when my pickup truck won't start, I talk to God too. But not in so many words."
Another year, Ruth announced just before Christmas that someone had donated a case of frozen lobster tails. "Imagine," she said, "some of our people are going to ring in the new year with lobster." She paused for a moment, and then added, "You know, I think lobster tail is my favorite food. But I haven't had it in so long, I really can't remember."
Betty Miller was chairwoman of the board in those days and at every Christmas dinner she'd say, "I'd like to introduce my good husband, Coray." To which, someone would invariably shout, "Did you leave your bad husband at home?"
As time went by, the laughs continued. Like a couple of years ago when Kristie Adonizio volunteered to join me at a red kettle. Her grandfather, Jay Delaney, who has since passed away, had been my regular partner for years, but he had taken ill and Kristie wanted to honor him by taking his place. I found these goofy — and I do mean goofy — hats in the Christmas Tree Shop and bought one for me and one for Kristie. They looked like Christmas trees, lights and all. It was dark when we began our shift at Walmart and we made quite a pair in our matching, glowing headwear. Turned out those hats were donation magnets. Everyone commented as they dropped money in our kettle. Little kids pointed and giggled. Adults asked us where we got them. Everything about us shouted "Merry Christmas!"
Then the unexpected happened.
Kristie said she needed to dash into Walmart to use the restroom and suddenly I was alone at the kettle. Standing all by myself in that stupid hat put a whole different spin on things. Instead of a grandfatherly type spreading holiday cheer with this lovely young lady by his side, I was now just a dorky old guy with a twinkling Christmas tree on my head. I'm probably exaggerating but it seemed not one donation went into that kettle while I was alone.
I'm telling you all of this today because the West Pittston Salvation Army is looking toward humor to raise funds to support its children's programs. On Thursday evening, Sept. 19, the Salvation Army will present "Funny 4 Funds," a comedy show, at the Wyoming Area Catholic School auditorium. Tickets are $20 and sponsorships are available. If interested, go to funny4funds.com/events or simply call Lt. Gavin Yeatts at 954-297-1700.
There'll be plenty of laughs that night, but more importantly, the money raised will ensure the laughter continues for dozens of children all year long.
I'm thinking of showing up in my Christmas tree hat. If I can find it.