Each year around the holidays, volunteers for The Salvation Army stand outside grocery stores and ring bells to call shoppers to give to their cause. The familiar Kettle Campaign raises millions of dollars for the nationwide charity that provides a range of services to those in need, including aid with food, housing and employment.
Since the Moab chapter of The Salvation Army is again inactive, the funds raised locally this season would not be put to work in Moab. But local City Market Manager Brendon Cameron surprised former Salvation Army coordinator Sara Melnicoff by pledging to match the donations raised by his employees for The Salvation Army, and give the matching amount to local nonprofit Moab Solutions, which Melnicoff runs.
City Market belongs to The Kroger Company, which commits its employees to participate in The Salvation Army kettle campaign each holiday season. In Moab, City Market employees stood outside the sliding doors of the grocery store, wishing shoppers a Merry Christmas, clanging bells and accepting money in the iconic red pail.
“We gathered (the funds) together from myself and others wanting to help other folks,” Cameron said. “I know that Moab Solutions helps our community, and that Salvation Army would just sit (the money) in an account. So I got together with a few other people ... and matched the donation.”
Cameron noted that some of his own employees have benefited from services provided by Moab Solutions.
“We have 130 Moab residents as part of our team,” Cameron said. “Our goal is to be a part of Moab, just as much as our customers are a part of City Market. We’re all lucky to live in this amazing place.”
Cameron has been the manager of City Market for about 18 months, and during that time, the store has contributed to more than a hundred community organizations and events, including the Moab Valley Humane Society and KZMU Community Radio. Melnicoff described him as “a natural-born manager, and a really nice guy.”
After The Salvation Army benefit, Cameron welcomed volunteer fundraisers for Moab Solutions, and along with online and mailed donations, the group raised $7,000 in addition to City Market’s match.
Moab Solutions is a homegrown organization that provides the same range of aid offered by The Salvation Army, but it’s able to bypass the bureaucracy which is inevitable in a very large organization. It also keeps local donations in the community to address local needs, without having to send money to a regional or national headquarters.
Melnicoff began the nonprofit with a mission to clean up litter in Moab’s green spaces, and to recycle as much of the waste as possible. While picking up trash along the parkway and Mill Creek, Melnicoff and other volunteers encountered homeless people living in these areas. The mission of Moab Solutions expanded to include providing supportive services for people in need.
Melnicoff eventually discovered that there was an inactive extension of The Salvation Army in Moab. She took leadership of the unit and leveraged the highly recognizable name to raise enough funds to respond to emergency needs in the community. The funds were available to people who needed help with rent or utilities, gas money, food or medical assistance. However, Melnicoff said the paperwork load grew too intense. Late last year, she set aside her role with The Salvation Army to focus on Moab Solutions.
During the Moab Solutions fundraiser at City Market, members of the nonprofit set up a table with a banner and donation bin, and greeted shoppers with smiles.
Frank Stewart has worked with Melnicoff over the last several years, and volunteered again this year for Moab Solutions.
He said Moab residents were happy to see Moab Solutions taking donations to provide local aid.
“Absolutely,” Stewart said. “People were very positive about it, very appreciative. They had good things to say about the money staying here and the good work that Sara does.”
The drive was a success this year, he said, and Stewart is optimistic about the future.
“Next year will probably be even better,” he said. “Now that people are seeing Moab Solutions instead of Salvation Army. It all stays here, and it’s all locally driven. That’s a really good thing.”
Recipients of the emergency funds agree.
One woman, who did not wish to be named, said she is grateful to Melnicoff for giving her a needed boost as she tried to put her life on a new track. The woman was trying to fulfill the obligations she had agreed to in drug court, and she needed to be able to drive, but could not afford to pay for car insurance. Searching for help, she called Seekhaven Family Crisis and Resource Center, which put her in touch with Melnicoff.
“I was literally sitting in the parking lot of the insurance company, crying,” the woman said.
Melnicoff called the insurance office and paid for a policy with a credit card over the phone.
“It’s hard to ask for help,” the woman said. “But sometimes you have to. And she (Melnicoff) helped me. She saved my butt.”
Melnicoff said that community support for the fundraiser has been amazing.
“I didn’t know how people would react, because Salvation Army is very well-known and Moab Solutions – some people know about us … but I didn’t know what to expect, and the community was extremely generous.”