Maj. Esther James is a Salvation Army pastor with 47 years in the ranks. But her mission is far from over.
To benefit the church’s men’s shelter, the Salvation Army will host its second annual Empty Bowl fundraiser Feb. 25 at River Oaks in Lafayette.
“When the men come to us — some have come from jail — we provide emergency overnight care,” James said. “We take anyone who comes through the gate, and they start lining up at 3 outside the fence.”
In addition to its emergency aid, the Salvation Army supplies fresh bed linens, a hygiene kit and back-to-work programs.
“We take care of a lot of needs,” said James, adding the men must have an ID, a change of clothing and cannot have drugs or alcohol.
“We’re not set up for trouble,” she said.
In Lafayette for 100 years in some form, the Salvation Army follows mainstream Methodist theology and founder William Booth’s original prescription of soup, soap and salvation, administered in the belief that outside cleanliness fosters spiritual cleanliness. They administer a structured, two-part social services program that includes counseling and education, plus weekly church services and Bible study.
While money from the event will primarily help the men’s shelter, it also will assist the soup kitchen.
“Our present dining room only seats 24. When someone gets up, another takes their place,” James said.
“We serve 100 or more per day between 4 and 5 p.m. and are one of the only groups that feed at night,” she said. “Three thousand per month out of our existing kitchen. Could we extend that? Sure, if we had more space. Until we get the other facility, we only have room for so many.”
The Salvation Army’s long-term goal is to refurbish an existing church building and expand its operations.
“I think that’s needed in the community,” James said. “What we’re noticing is a third of those we see are families.”
James said the Salvation Army encourages employment among those it serves, and she’s seen a surge of those needing help since the downturn of the oil industry.
“There are families who’ve never asked for help before and men who came here thinking they could find work offshore,” she said. “Now, they can’t get out of Lafayette when before, all they saw were possibilities.”
In a culture where men are expected to work and eschew hand-outs, James said a lot of them know how they’ve been labeled.
“If we’re filling the bowl, we’re giving hope. You can lose yourself for a multitude of reasons,” she said. “We’ll help you.”