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Not for Profit: Salvation Army

April 22, 2007 — Everybody knows that in March 1917 the Danish flag was lowered in the Virgin Islands and the flag of the United States of America was raised. It's celebrated as Transfer Day every year.
What many people do not know, however, is that another flag was raised in 1917 — the flag of the Salvation Army. It is a handsome swath of deep red cloth surrounding a bold yellow star bearing the slogan "Blood & Fire," and bordered in dark blue.
Today that flag is prominently displayed at the head of the corps church off Market Square, a small but handsome structure. It's a far cry from the garage they were given in 1920 after an angry public burned down their first hall. According to the sparse history of the early days of the corps on St. Thomas, a Mrs. Manneke gave them the garage that sheltered the town hearse. In it the Salvation Army served the first dinner for the poor.
It was rough going for the small band of salvationist stalwarts for the first few years. They were scorned by the populace, who found them "strange." History on early days is scant. One tract by corps historian Sallie Chesham says, "No one had ever heard of the Salvation Army, and the beating of its drum in the name of God caused great offense. People called them 'floor rollers.'"
Finally, an officer named Trotman brought things to order. Chesham recalls a description of him as, "a dauntless officer with 'God's cannonballs in his blood.'"
Today Major Federico Craig and his wife, Major Doris Craig, reign over the peaceful kingdom off Market Square. The property was donated by Alfred Lockhart. It was dedicated in 1940 by then Government Secretary Daniel Ambrose. The building though small, is sturdy and inviting. It was built entirely by the corps. Major Craig points out a small block in the front of the structure, saying it was "laid in 1941, by Judge H. E. Moore." This contradicts the 1940 date.
The building is home for services, Bible school, prayer meetings and the women's ministry. The adjoining structures house the thrift shop, dining room, minuscule kitchen, office and upstairs quarters.
Major Craig welcomes visitors to his office, spilling over with the detritus of a busy life. A couple of tambourines, stuffed animals, umbrellas and all manner of reading material pack the tight quarters.
Outside in the vestibule, women and small children pore over free items of clothing under the supervision of a volunteer. The organization could hardly function without its volunteers, who help serve food, cook, and man the thrift shop. Major Doris Craig manages the shop which, she says, brings in about $100 a day.
Federico Craig talks about St. Thomas: "You don't know where, or for how long they will send you," he says. They were sent here two years ago, and from the looks of it, neither has stopped for breath since. "The calling isn't a job," he says, with his warm smile. "We were called to serve in God's hands. We are his feet and hands, his instruments."
Both Craigs are from the Caribbean and both are delighted to be back in the Caribbean, specifically St. Thomas. Federico Craig is from Panama and Doris is from Jamaica. They met at the corps training college in Kingston, Jamaica, and were married in Panama five years later.
Federico says he was on St. Thomas twice in the 1990s for conferences. "I've always wanted to come back," he says. Doris Craig agrees: "I was here in 1994, and I've hoped to be sent here since then," she says. "We were in Pittsburgh shoveling snow. I was overwhelmed."
Most of their posts have been in the Caribbean. "We have three sons," Federico says. "Devon, who was born in Panama; Terron, in Costa Rica; and Ernesto, in Trinidad." Terron, who is a corps music director in Phoenix, Ariz., is coming for the corps 90th celebration in May.
Both majors felt the call of the corps as young folk, though Doris acted on it earlier. "My parents were Methodists," she says, "but I was a Salvationist pretty early; it was my calling."
Federico was going to the movies with a friend one night in Panama when he heard an open-air meeting and "the fearless speaking." That led him to the meeting, not the movies.
"Later," he says, "I applied for the training college and was accepted. I am 63 now, and I have been in the corps for 36 years."
The Craigs live the corps values. "We never turn anyone away from a meal," Federico says. "We feed about 100 people a day." That's to say nothing of the legendary Thanksgiving crowds, usually numbering 300.
Under Federico Craig's command, a 12-member advisory board of directors was founded in May 2006. St. Thomas attorney Tom Bolt is board chair.
"The Salvation Army is the safety net for so many in our community," Bolt says, "but so much more could be done. We are moving forward with the 90th anniversary celebration next month, and we are getting our first mobile canteen food truck next week from the Salvation Army in the states. It will provide food to the homeless in areas where others can't get to."
The week-long anniversary celebration will feature a concert at 10 a.m. May 12 at Emancipation Garden with the Salvation Army Brass Band Ensemble, an award-winning 44-piece brass band that will travel from the mainland. (See "Salvation Army Prepares to Celebrate 90 Years in the Territory.")
Board member Maria Ferreras, long a voice for the homeless on St. Thomas, says, "If we pull together, we can get things done. We have replaced the old two-burner stove. I found a friend to donate $2,000 for the new stove. There was a hole in the ceiling, which volunteers repaired. Little things make an enormous difference."
Long-term projects include a Second Harvest program, which will gather food from local restaurants and food purveyors and redistribute it to soup kitchens, emergency shelters and after-school programs.
Federico Craig also outlined plans for a medical clinic and a computer lab. "We have 12 computers which were donated, and we want to teach Hispanic and Asian populations and senior citizens. We hope to get that going this year." The clinic, he says, may take longer.
The Salvation Army, founded 145 years ago, is at work in 111 countries and has more than 1.1 million members worldwide.
This past week, the organization worked on the Virginia Tech campus to help students affected by the tragedy there. The Salvation Army website says they "have served about 1,100 meals a day." It continues, "At Tuesday night's candlelight vigil, over 1,200 students were greeted with hot cocoa, snacks and water."
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