“Soup, soap and salvation” is the motto of the Salvation Army, and that motto has been a part of life in The Dalles for 125 years.
It’s all part of the ministry’s primary mission of preaching the Gospel, said Major Tammy Ray, who is joined by husband Kevin in leading the local mission.
“Basically the original purpose was to preach the Gospel, share that with people who had never had access to it,” Ray explained. “When the Salvation Army was first established, the church of the day wasn’t generally available to the poor, only those with money.”
Yet money itself wasn’t the only barrier between the very poor and salvation: Without adequate food, shelter, clothing and cleanliness, salvation was impossible, leaders believed.
Working with the poor was a challenge, and social services were undertaken to provide room for the message of salvation at the core of the Salvation Army’s mission. “You feed them, you clean them up, so they can hear the Gospel,” Ray explained.
The Salvation Army was established in The Dalles in 1889, only a couple years after the Portland ministry was established, 24 years after the international organization was founded by Gen. William Booth.
Methods and facilities have changed over the years, but the mission has remained the same, with a mix of programs to serve the spiritual and physical needs of those who come in.
In the 1980s “The Loft” was established to serve area youth, and for a time it was the “happening place.”
Later in the same decade, the ministry was asked to help assist the homeless brought into the area by the Rajneesh. Their work was recognized at the time by former Oregon Gov. Vic Atiyeh. Details of the ministry prior to 1970 are thin, and anyone with information about years prior is encouraged to contact the Salvation Army to provide details.
Current programs include a worship service Sunday mornings at 10:30 a.m., a JAM-N-The Loft youth-oriented worship service, Sunbeams and Adventure Corps, The Loft after school homework club for middle and high school students Monday through Thursday from 3 to 6 p.m., and a Women’s Home League Family Services, which includes a food pantry, clothing, household items and a Christmas Tree Angel program.
They also operate a thrift store, with proceeds benefitting the community.
The work of the local Army has been great, said Ray, who estimates over 480,000 individuals have been served in The Dalles over the past 125 years. Estimates of other services provided since the establishment of the ministry are equally astonishing:
Over 163,000 food boxes and one million articles of clothing have been distributed. Over 4,000 have attended worship services.
Four Salvation Army officers (ordained pastors of the Salvation Army Church) are from The Dalles and are still serving in the region, including Majors William and Laurie (Schmoker) Heiselman, Major Laura (Webb) Sullivan and Major Mike Zielinski.
Eighty-three officers have served in The Dalles since it was established.
In the early years of the ministry, officers were moved frequently from place to place, sometimes staying only a month or two.
Two generations ago, officers served as long as a year. In the last generation, officers served an average of two or three years in one location.
Today, Majors Tammy and Kevin Ray have been serving in The Dalles for five years.
“Any time after five years is a gift for us,” Tammy said. She doesn’t know when she might be called away.
“We don’t know until about six weeks before we have to move. People get moved depending on the needs. It’s very militaristic in how it is structured.”
Although Tammy has only served a handful of years in The Dalles, her ties to the ministry are deep. She had an uncle serve as an officer here in the 1970s, and her family has served for six generations on her mother’s side, five on her father’s.
“I believe that our family, through the generations, have been called to do this,” she explained. “It’s a tough job, but we feel we have been called to do it. It becomes something we know and love. I don’t know what else we would do.”
“I’m very proud of my heritage,” she added. “A lot of lives have been changed through the Salvation Army, and because of my family before me.” The Rays have three children, Joshua, 23, Sara, 19 and Caleb, 17. Her daughter Sara plans to continue the family tradition, and will be attending the Salvation Army training college next year, a two year program. She plans to become an officer as well.