New Salvation Army Directors Set Goals to Help Community

 

Capts. Angel and Valerie Calderson are the new directors of The Salvation Army’s Clay County Unit.

By Christina Leach Phillips

Correspondent 

MIDDLEBURG – Although the start of the holiday season is a couple months away, Capt. Angel Calderon and Capt. Valerie Calderon, new directors of the Salvation Army of Clay County, are busy organizing the annual Christmas Kettle program and Angel Tree program that gives clothes and toys to children in need. 

The Calderons, who moved to Middleburg fromPuerto Ricoin June to run the Clay County Corps, also want to develop more programs for families. 

“The Salvation Army is here to serve the needs of our residents, and our doors are open to all who are in need,” said Capt. Valerie Calderon. “Our goal is to continuously see whatever programs we can bring to our community that can help them.” 

Before joining the Salvation Army, the Calderons worked in secular jobs.  He was Assistant Controller for the city ofBridgeport,Conn., and she was a registered nurse.  They both hold Master’s degrees in Pastoral Counseling and were ministers in their church. 

“It’s basically a calling you receive,” she said.  “When we met the ministry of the army, we felt led in our hearts that this is where we wanted to do our ministry.  Once you sign up in the army, you have to resign what you do in the secular, and we did that.” 

They attended the Salvation Army’s officers training program for two years before receiving their first assignment at the Miami Corps in Little Havana that was in a financial deficit.  They brought it out of deficit and started a children’s music program and a baseball program that even got the Florida Marlins involved.   

They also served in Kissimmee, Fla., Odessa, Texas, and Plano, Texas, “They leave you there a couple of years, and then you get your farewell orders every May to go on to the next one,” she said. 

“Presently, we are running all the operations inClayCounty,” said Capt. Angel Calderon.

The Calderons oversee many programs, run a food pantry, counsel people through their social services department, and are ministers of the church at the facility in Middleburg. 

“Families come on a daily basis when they have need for groceries,” said Capt. Valerie Calderon.  “Right now anybody in the community can sign up who’s in need and have their Thanksgiving turkey.” 

The Salvation Army also helps people who cannot pay their utilities, rent, or mortgage. People seeking assistance fill out a form with proof of income, she said.

On a recent weekday afternoon, a steady stream of people stopped by the food pantry desk where loaves of bread were stacked on shelves in the front office. One tearful man broke down and said he lost his job and needed help.  

“It’s a challenging moment where we have a financial collapse in the nation and a lot of people who are unemployed,” she said. 

Over 9,000 people received some type of assistance from the Salvation Army of Clay County last year, according to recent published statistics. 

As the parents of four daughters, the Calderons also want to help children.  They just completed a “Stuff the Bus” campaign that gave out 252 backpacks filled with school supplies to children in need.  They also sponsor the Adventure Corps, like scouting, which meets in the classrooms of their 16,000 square-foot community center. 

“It’s very satisfying and very rewarding once you know that the kids in the community and the needs of the families are fulfilled,” she said. 

In the future, she said it’s their dream to start a music program here like the one inMiami“so that kids can come and be a part of it, and they don’t have to worry about paying big fees.”  Both of them are musically gifted – she has a music degree in Cello, and he plays the drums. 

Capt. Angel Calderon pointed out a large field behind the community center that sits on six acres of land.  It’s his “Field of Dreams” because he said he foresees a time when children can play baseball and soccer there. 

The money to run the programs mostly comes from the red kettle donations and private donations, they said.  Some funds come from the Salvation Army stores. 

With a staff of only four people, including themselves, they rely on volunteers to help.  “It’s a very tiny staff doing a lot of work to accomplish the needs of the community,” she said. 

Presently, they are looking for volunteers to be bell ringers for the red kettles during the holidays. “Whatever time you can give – one hour, two hours, five hours – we need your help,” he said. 

Long-time volunteers Glenn Wiersma and his wife, Janet Wiersma, run the Salvation Army’s mobile canteen that provides food to first responders in disaster situations.  He calls the Calderons “the dynamic duo.”  “They are tremendous,” he said. 

Suzie Young, Chairperson of the Advisory Council, said, “I think the Calderons are pretty incredible – the level of activism and planning that they are already demonstrating is encouraging.  Their Hispanic influence is an opportunity to reach a group that probably hasn’t been reached before in ClayCounty.” 

“They are both very passionate about what they are doing,” she said.  “It’s not just a job, it’s their life.” 

To volunteer as a bell ringer with the Salvation Army, call 904-276-6677 or go online to http://www.ringbells.org.  All donations can be sent to: Salvation Army Clay County Unit, 2795 County Road 220, Middleburg, FL 32068.  Volunteers are needed year round.

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