‘Soup, Soap and Salvation’ Comfort Millions

Times Staff Writer

Founded in the 1870s to provide “soup, soap and salvation” for lost souls, the Salvation Army now provides services to more than 42 million needy people a year at 9,000 centers in the United States.

On Tuesday, the group got the largest single donation in its history: $1.5 billion from the estate of the late Joan Kroc to help build 25 to 30 community centers across the country, modeled after one Kroc financed in San Diego.

Known primarily for its disaster relief work, the Salvation Army has sent volunteers to the World Trade Center disaster site and to the recent earthquake in Iran. Its Christmas-season fundraising approach -- volunteers at street corners and store entrances ringing bells over red kettles -- is known worldwide.


As part of an evangelical Christian effort, the Salvation Army runs soup kitchens, rehabilitation centers, thrift stores, group homes, medical facilities, disaster-assistance programs and other services in 109 countries. In the U.S., more than 60 million meals are served and 10 million nights of lodging provided annually.

Of its $2.5-billion-a-year U.S. budget, about 25% comes from donations and another 25% from other groups that pay the Salvation Army to administer their programs. Other funding sources include the United Way and similar organizations, program fees, in-kind donations and sales.

The group’s co-founder, William Booth, believed in an aggressive approach to bringing religion to the poor and was known to wander the East End of London, taking his evangelistic message to alcoholics, prostitutes, gamblers and thieves. His unorthodox ways caused an estrangement from the religious establishment.

Religion is no longer as strong a component of the organization’s mission, but services are still held. High-level officers are required to marry within the faith and are assigned to work as couples, receiving housing and a stipend.

“Whatever you may think of their religiosity, the Salvation Army has proven itself a reliable and efficient organization when it comes to providing social services,” said Eugene Tempel, director of the Institute on Philanthropy at Indiana University.

Salvation Army officials at the U.S. headquarters in Alexandria, Va., estimate that the organization will need to raise $65 million to $70 million a year to cover the cost of operating the new centers.

“It’s going to be work, but it’s work we’re ready to do,” said Salvation Army Maj. George Hood, national director of community relations.