Salvation Army volunteer does what’s needed

Salvation Army volunteer Don Cole has even played Santa. - Seraine Page
Salvation Army volunteer Don Cole has even played Santa.
— image credit: Seraine Page

Don Cole didn’t cry until he left the scene of an apartment fire that claimed one life and left several homeless. Too many people needed The Salvation Army volunteer to be strong.

It was Christmas Eve, and though he had been in the spirit of the holiday most of the day, that feeling quickly disappeared once he learned of the fire while he was volunteering at The Salvation Army as Santa Claus. The American Red Cross called to see if The Salvation Army volunteers could bring food to the fire victims.

Cole agreed to head over to help where needed.

“It’s hard, especially on a holiday to see someone go through that,” he said. “Comfort is really important.”

Throughout the day, Cole handed out blankets and food baskets to those who were displaced by the fire at the Madrona Estates apartment complex.

As a regular volunteer at the The Salvation Army and Bremerton Foodline, Cole has seen residents on some of their worse days. It is his hope that by dedicating his time and efforts to the organizations that those people may somehow have a brighter day.

“I just appreciate the level of caring without the expectation of getting anything back,” he said of volunteering. “It’s an opportunity to be a part of something bigger than me.”

Over the years, Cole has spent time in a variety of volunteering capacities. In high school, it was in service positions in clubs. He frequently spends time as a maintenance man at an AA meeting hall in Bremerton. Once, he went on a missions trip with his church to the Dominican Republic and Mexico. The list goes on, but it is his degree in human services that he believes has helped lead him to helping so many people.

Going where he’s needed is one of his volunteer specialties, in fact.

Sheryl Ann Piercy will attest to that.

As the social services director of The Salvation Army in Bremerton, she’s seen Cole volunteer at a full throttle pace, like he did on Christmas Eve.

That day, The Salvation Army staff planned a party for local families to eat dinner with Santa Claus. Due to a family emergency, Santa cancelled. Families had already planned to stop in to take photos with Santa who would hand out gifts. Piercy and other staff members worried that there would be no one to fill Santa’s shoes. More than 200 people were expecting St. Nick to be at the dinner celebration.

It wasn’t long before a new Santa took his place.

Cole stepped up and agreed to take on the role. He went to Party City, bought a Santa suit, and he prepped for his big day.

“Despite such a long day, he was overflowing with the blissful contentment that fills a person’s  heart when they are doing their best work and giving back to the community,” he said. “My favorite part of working with someone like Don as a volunteer is that he inspires everyone with his drive and passion for service.  His excitement helps ignite everyone around him and that is priceless in a volunteer setting.”

It was during that happy event that staff heard news that a local apartment complex caught fire. Families, they discovered, were now homeless just one day before Christmas. Even though volunteers and staff alike were ready to celebrate with their own families, a team pulled together to make food baskets — including Cole — to deliver. He assisted with making lunches, collecting blankets and hygiene bags and even assembled stockings for those displaced by the fire, Piercy said.

By the end, even Santa was tired by the long day. Even though every hour was filled with something to do on Christmas Eve, Cole felt he was right where he needed to be.

“I just like helping people,” he said. “People are social animals. I believe we’re all called to help each other and don’t do a lot of it anymore.”

He’s even gotten his kids, ages 10 and 11, involved in volunteering. His sister, Carol Gallwas, also volunteers at the Bremerton Foodline. Cole said that volunteering and sharing that experience with others has opened his eyes to what’s really happening in his community.

“It’s just an awesome feeling that they are a part of the same thing,” he said. “I think it’s just a way of being connected to the world and what’s happening in it.”



Interested in volunteering for the Salvation Army?

Contact The Salvation Army-Bremerton Corps at 360-373-5550.


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