Our time in Kansas ended this morning.  Early on the road back to Chicago.  Across state highways, then north on Interstate 44 through Missouri. 

Lunch stop in St Louis at Benton Park Coffee on Arsenal near the Temple Corps.  It’s a great place for coffee.  Really great coffee.   One of those remarkable places where it’s fresh roasted and always fresh brewed.  And a nice lunch shared with John, Cadet Kirsten, and Majors Neal and Patty Richardson.

The Richardsons are leaders of The Salvation Army’s Midland Division headquartered in St Louis.  We share a long friendship.  And long conversations, in large part due to Neal’s ability to see the possibilities often unseen by the rest of us.

This season a new development has been the return of the Army’s Christmas assistance back to our neighborhood centers in St Louis.

For years we’ve distributed our Toy Town Christmas gifts to the parents of thousands of St Louis children at a central warehouse.  This year it was different.  Parents applied at a Salvation Army center close to their home.  And toys were distributed from that center.  Families had a shorter trip.  And Army personnel at the center were able to provide hospitality and information on what the Army does in the neighborhood.

In many places across the USA this is how we do it.  In some larger cities we may yet have one distribution center, but it bypasses neighborhood participation.    It’s unfortunate, for it contributes to an unhealthy disconnect between what one hand of the Army does and the other.

Major Neal was also pleased with another development. It appears that a significant increase in Salvation Army Soldiers being engaged with families also took place.  With applications, distributing toys, or offering a cup of hot coffee.  And prayer with those who requested.

Now more families know where they can go for help when needed.  To the Salvation Army people at our neighborhood centers, our Soldiers and Officers.  Maybe for food.  Maybe a good afterschool option for schoolchildren.  Maybe to someone who can be a friend, that listens to stories of hurts and hopes, that prays.

Here’s the new St Louis Salvation Army website with a nice feature about this year’s Toy Town.