Salvation Army, Boy Scouts combat homelessness

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COLUMBIA - The Salvation Army and Boy Scout Troop 4 teamed up to combat child homelessness leading up to the holidays. The scouts and their families set up an array of toys for young children that the Army would then deliver to families in need.

The number of homeless children increased by nearly 4,000 in Missouri from 2012 to 2013, according to a recent report. Chapman said the increased rate is more noticeable now at the Salvation Army's homeless shelter, Harbor House.

Cindy Chapman, the Salvation Army's area director of development, said building the Toy Shop has been helpful to families in need.

"The Toy Shop is designed as a place where people can have dreams fulfilled for their children," Chapman said.

The Salvation Army took donations from local organizations that included toys for young children, as well as food and clothes. Salvation Army workers will continuously distribute those donations to those families in need who applied for help. They built the Toy Shop in the basement of the Salvation Army's headquarters on Ash Street.

"It isn't about ‘us and them'," Scoutmaster Andy Upham said of helping the homeless. "It's really us as a group all working to help each other out. That's really what we're trying to portray."

"We are our worst PR," Chapman said with a smile. "If you see a homeless person reaching out, asking for change, it's usually the Salvation Army standing in the background."

Merc Mazzocco, 72, was Boy Scout Troop 4's leader when it first established a connection with the Salvation Army. He can trace his scout roots back to 1975. The two groups first collaborated on the Toy Shop in 1984, when Mazzocco was scoutmaster. Thirty years later, he still sees the impact the project has.

"This warms my heart," Mazzocco said. "The kids like doing it. They really get into it."

Upham agreed. "It's fun to see their leadership skills in action, how they divide up tasks among themselves," he said of the scouts.

"We need to make a difference," Mazzocco said. "You see the difference scouting makes. Scouting teaches responsibility for your own behavior. That's why I stay involved."

Chapman said the Harbor House has proved effective as a temporary stay for those without a home. So long as they are respectful of the property and others, Chapman said the homeless could take shelter at Harbor House for a full year.

"What would the community look like if there were homeless children on the streets of downtown, if the Salvation Army weren't there?" Chapman asked.

Upham said he looks forward to future projects between the Boy Scouts and the Salvation Army. He said he hopes the Toy Shop can operate similar to an organization like Habitat for Humanity, where both the helper and people being helped work together and build.

"It would help [homeless people] feel a bit more independent, and improve the community as well," Upham said.

The Salvation Army asks for hams and turkeys as donations they can give to the people at their shelters.

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