Released 23 December 2013
Neyda Rios came to The Salvation Army Pioneer Corps Community Center one step at a time.
First, her son's godfather, a Salvation Army church member, invited her to the center for a community lunch. Then, she applied to The Salvation Army for assistance at Christmas. The mother of two special-needs children, she received toys, a Christmas stocking for each child, hats and scarves, and a gift card to buy groceries at Pathmark.
And then, she says, "I got pulled into the kitchen."
Today, side-by-side with cook John Rodriguez, Neyda lends her culinary talents to The Salvation Army's weekly community lunch and, on Wednesdays, prepares dinner after practice for members of The Salvation Army band. Salad, soup, chicken and scalloped potatoes are just a few of the items she serves up. The center depends on food donations from Philabundance, the region's largest relief organization, and menu planning demands versatility and creativity.
Is she a good cook? "I've been told so," she says modestly, and with a smile.
Cooking is not her only talent, however. For up to five days a week, Neyda puts her administrative skills to good use, staffing the reception desk, answering the phone, and fielding a steady stream of inquiries about food, clothing, rental assistance, utilities assistance and more.
"I fill in wherever I'm needed," she says. "I love to help people."
Two years ago, when Ruth Rivera stopped in at the food pantry at The Salvation Army Pioneer Corps Community Center to pick up some kitchen staples, she noticed a sign advertising Bible study on a nearby bulletin board.
Intrigued, she went.
Today, Ruth's life is centered around The Salvation Army on Allegheny Avenue in North Philadelphia. Not only does this single mother of three attend Bible study on Sundays, but she has become a tireless volunteer whose children are also enthusiastically immersed in Salvation Army activities.
Ruth's older children, ages 11 and 6, attend the after-school program and Bible study at the Pioneer center. They love the music program, and one is learning to play the violin. The family joined the church a year ago, and "the kids can't wait for Sundays," Ruth says. "They love to get dressed up."
Her oldest, a son, has become a straight-A student and was selected to attend Philadelphia's Conwell Middle Magnet School. The Salvation Army has brought him closer to God, and he is looking forward to becoming a junior soldier (junior church member). And her six-year-old daughter? "She looks up to her older brother," Ruth says.
Ruth volunteers regularly, taking on a variety of assignments including summer camp. "I love kids, and I love to help people," she says. "I came from an abusive home, so I know what it's like to hurt. I hate to see people suffer."
Her career goal is to graduate from Bible college and become a spiritual leader, working with children and counseling families in need as they navigate the maze of social services for assistance. Her Salvation Army experience has reinforced her faith.
"The Salvation Army has brought me closer to God," she says.