Their name still evokes images of bell-ringing Santas, coaxing Chirstmas shoppers to fill their black kettles with change, or little brass bands working to save the souls of the down-and-out.
Yet in the 100 years since it first set up shop in the United States, the Salvation Army has evolved into a large network of agencies serving the community.
The agencies go beyond the familiar second-hand stores and the mobile canteens that sprout up at disaster sites, clinics, summer camps, social service centers, drug and alcoholic rehabilitation centers and dozens of other activities.
To World War II veterans, the Salvation Army may bring back memories of free hot coffee, doughnuts, cigarettes and playing cards that were distributed to servicemen and women.
In 1941, it joined with six other agencies to found the United Service Organization (USO), a network of recreation centers for military personnel. oBut when the USO introduced liquor in 1977, the Salvation Army withdrew its support.
The Salvation Army is a church with414,000 American adherents and 2 million members in 83 countries. There are approximately 1,000 members in the Washington area.
The church is organized along military lines, with members called soldiers and ministers called by their military rank.
Soldiers don't smoke or drink. Onceinducted, members must tithe and volunteer for army activities. Women always have had equal standing with men in the church.
The church got its start in England in 1865, when William Booth, an evangelist and former Methodist minister, set out to ease the misery of the slum dwellers of London's East End. Booth's philosophy was that the hungry are more likely to listen to the Gospelif they have a full stomach and warm clothes.
He and his wife Catherine began establishing mission stations that fed and clothed the poor.
The following year, Booth adopted the name Salvation Army and introduced the military structure and uniforms and brass bands.
In 1879, an unofficial mission was established in Philadelphia. The army began officially in the United States in 1880 when Commissioner George Scott Railton and seven women Salvationists arrived in New York City.
Their open-air meetings, complete with loud brass bands and marches, attracted not only the attention of the poor and homeless in New York, but abusive mobs and police who arrested them frequently for disturbing the peace.
In 1884, members of the American branch tried to sever ties with Booth. They were expelled and established the American Salvation Army, which never prospered.
In the 1940s, under the leadership ofBooth's daughter, Evangeline, for whom the Evangeline homes for business women are named, the Salvation Army expanded its work.
Its members began disaster relief work during the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, made the "donut girls" a household work during World War I and served up 34,000 meals a week in New York City during the depression.
The Salvation Army's budget has grown along with its social services. Washington area corps centers received over $657,000 from the United Way last year for a total income of over $2,228,000.
In New York City, the Salvation Army has a budget of approximately $69 million this year, $3 million of which comes from state and local governments, $3 million from the UnitedWay and $525,000 from last year's Christmas drive. The biggest chunk ofthe budget -- $46 million -- goes to the Salvation Army Hospital there.
Last year in metropolitan Washington, a slow Christmas for some charities, the public pitched an average of $100 to$150 a day into each of those black lettles on tripods, for a total of$66,884. Toys, food and other aid were given to 76,000 needy people in thearea last Christmas, according to the Salvation Army.
Year-round activities in the Washington area include a women and children's emergency home that can house 12 personsfor up to five days and an adult rehabilitation center that can help up to 62 alcoholics rehabilitate themselves through a structured live-in program. Both centers, located on Capitol Hill, are free. But once those living there begin jobs arranged by the Salvation Army, they pay $35 per week for room and board.
The Salvation Army's neighborhood social services department on Fifth Street NW helps 10 to 35 persons a day, paying for back rent or new furniture for the elderly. They help only those who don't receive similar services from the government, according to Ruth Gordon, a social worker there.
At the national level, the SalvationArmy is well known for its disaster assistance. "They're there before we are, giving out food, blankets and clothing not only to the workers, too," said Heather Schoen, a spokeswoman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is currently working with the victims of Hurricane Allen inCorpus Christi Tex.
"When they're finished, they kind of fade out without much fanfare. They're not like the Red Cross, who goes out there with their name all over the place," said Schoen, who has workedwith both groups at 12 different disaster sites.
As for the brass bands, they're not found on street corners anymore, but the 35-members, all-brass National Capital Area Salvation Army Band will begin its concert schedule this year at the 3355 Sherman Ave. NW Corps Center on Sept. 10.
The band usually plays several times a month throughout the fall and spring at local churches, colleges and nursing homes as well as at large Salvation Army gathering.