Often the holiday season sparks cherished memories shared with family and friends, and for Salvation Army Maj. Evelyn Hopping, it was those special times while growing up that influenced her career path.
Born and raised in Rome, Hopping has led the Beaver County Salvation Army, outside Pittsburgh, Pa., since June after taking the helm of several Salvation Armies throughout New York.
Hopping, the sixth of seven children, grew up attending the Salvation Army church. But when her father was the victim of a life-altering accident when she was just a young girl, her mother, who relied on social services to support her large family, sought help through the organization.
It was Rome Salvation Army that would not only provide Christmas baskets and toys, but also hope to a struggling family during the holidays and throughout the year.
“We attended the Salvation Army all our lives as our church, but when I was about 6, and my dad was in a really bad car accident and in a coma for more than a month, my mom used the Salvation Army’s services to get through Christmas,” Hopping recalled. “They would give presents to my parents so they could put them under the Christmas tree.”
In her school days, Hopping said she also attended the Salvation Army’s after-school programs and also played basketball there.
“My mom didn’t drive or have a vehicle, so the Salvation Army was a big part of our lives,” the major said. “We had a safe place to go every day. We attended Camp Alice Newton from the time I was seven to age 14 as a camper, and then I worked there a couple of years during high school and after. It gave us something to do in the summer.”
Hopping said she knew at a young age that God had called her to her life’s mission. Once an officer with the Salvation Army, you also become an ordained minister, she said.
She began her Salvation Army career in Suffern, Rockland County, and was then transferred to Fulton, where she spent five years. Hopping then served in Watertown for seven years, Oneonta for three and Wellsville, Allegany County, for two before reporting to Beaver Falls, Pa. on June 28. She serves as the coordinator for three different Salvation Armies that serve Beaver County, which has a population of just more than 168,800.
But just three weeks after reporting to her new post, Hopping said she was diagnosed with cancer.
“This Friday will be my third treatment of chemo, but I have things to be thankful for every day, and I thank the Lord for helping me through it all,” Hopping said. “I do what I can and as much. Usually I’ll have one bad week, but two good ones where things are getting done.”
Hopping still has one brother, Jim, living in Rome. But all her family plan on coming to Pennsylvania for Christmas as she battles her cancer. As she looks forward to spending time with family during the holidays, the major said she hopes others will consider giving their support or time to the organization.
“Christmas time is so special because we are able to help so many people,” she said. “My favorite part is giving presents to the children, because I know every child will have a new toy under the tree.”
Hopping said, “I’ve been an officer for 17 years and before we would get families on fixed incomes. But now we get the working poor who never had to ask for help before, and we ensure them that it’s OK to come seek out our services. Christmas time is the most special part of the whole year for us, because we know that people are going to get something underneath the Christmas tree, and we will help with donations of clothing too.”
To ensure that needy families are provided with gifts, food and clothing during the holiday season, Hopping said the Red Kettle Campaign continues to be a vital and crucial fund-raiser for the organization. She said it’s important at this time of year to not only consider giving donations, but also time to assist in the campaign’s success.
“Red Kettles are an important part of Christmas, and it’s the number-one fund-raiser in most communities,” Hopping said. “It’s very important that people donate to the Red Kettles because they help keep our programs going, not only during the holidays, but throughout the year. What we do has no season, so we count on donations year-round.”
In Beaver Falls, Hopping said the Salvation Army provides a food pantry for needy residents, Christmas baskets, and depending on available funding, assistance with utilities. Transitional housing is also available for the homeless.
“We have transitional living here so homeless people have a place to stay before they are able to get back on their feet,” she said. “We also help women get children back from foster care. We have a homeless coalition here. Sometimes we help with vouchers to our thrift store for clothes and basic items if there’s a fire. We also have a soup kitchen that serves dinner Sunday evenings. And then we have children and adult programs, including a music program that teaches children how to play an instrument.”
Hopping doesn’t know if she’ll ever have the opportunity to serve her hometown. “We get a call that says, ‘you’re going to be moving,’ and we basically salute and go,” she laughed. An officer typically serves in one location for an average of five years, the major said. But one thing she can predict is how grateful she is for the people in Rome, particularly with the Salvation Army, who “helped so much in my life.”
“I’d like to thank the city and everyone there for their continued support of the Salvation Army,” Hopping said. “One of the big things is volunteers because we depend so greatly on them. It’s harder and harder to get bell ringers this time of year because everyone is so busy, but it’s so important. I hope” no matter where you are “that you will think of the Salvation Army at this time of year.”