DERRY — The Salvation Army is celebrating new expanded space to support those in need, while facing an uncertain future in the path of state road plans.
The local facility at 18 Folsom Road recently opened its improved and larger food pantry, offering fresh vegetables, breads and other foods to dozens of people every week.
The organization, serving Derry, Windham and Londonderry for about 20 years, officially purchased the property in 2017 and held a celebration last spring.
But with the state's Exit 4A interchange project slated to come through that part of town, the Salvation Army finds itself in a direct path of development, one of 13 residential properties and four business units — with a total of 25 businesses — affected by the work. Relocation assistance will be given to each landowner or tenant whose property is impacted.
The project could start in 2020 with possible completion in 2023.
After buying the building, officials hoped to raise $200,000 to support facility upgrades and programs and also had grant funding to help expand the food pantry mission.
With an uncertain future, the the Salvation Army's mission in the area continues as a strong, faith-based effort, serving many with programs ranging from the familiar holiday red kettle drives, to a free summer lunch program for local children, worship services, youth programs, summer camps for children, the food pantry, clothing support, holiday food baskets and gifts, serving as chaplain to the fire department and supporting grieving families.
It's a year-long mission.
"They make themselves available tirelessly to help anywhere they can," said Derry police Capt. Vern Thomas, also chairman of the Salvation Army Advisory Board. "Our corps is led by two officers and has grown steadily over the years as each pair of officers has left their mark and their legacy here."
Thomas said purchasing the Folsom Road property was a big step, planned to be the permanent home where good work could continue and grow.
"But a new project looming on the horizon is finding a new home," Thomas said.
According to Lt. Katie Mayes, where the Salvation Army lands is an unknown. She said the organization has started searching for a new location but suitable spots are expensive, and scarce. And there is no definite information from the state yet on how much will be paid to take the Folsom Road property.
The new food pantry
Longtime volunteers Bobby Aguirre and Edith Bragel were busy sorting food one morning prior to opening the next day. The pantry is open Tuesdays from 9 to 11 a.m.
For the couple, the Salvation Army means home and help.
"It means fellowship, working toward the goal of Jesus," Bragel said.
Aguirre drives the van and makes stops to pick up food being donated to the pantry. That could mean stopping at Walmart, Panera Bread, New Hampshire Food Bank and Hannaford.
Much is donated from a very generous support system, Bragel said.
"It's an excellent community," she said.
Bragel said up to 50 people may come to the food pantry every week. More come to worship, to socialize and to support each other.
"And after a Tuesday, these tables will all be empty," Mayes added.
Mayes has served in Derry for four years and is slated to leave town for her next assignment in Ohio. She was honored recently with a Derry Town Council proclamation for her support of the community. Lt. Kim Clark, also part of the Derry team, is also scheduled to leave this summer for a new assignment on the Seacoast after serving for the past year.
"These officers have become part of Derry and will be sadly missed as they head off to their new opportunities," Thomas said. "Their great work here will continue moving forward with strong community support for our new officers who will be named soon."
Mayes said she will miss Derry.
"Derry is always going to be a place I consider home," the Kentucky-native said, adding she was immersed in the community, coaching youth basketball, volunteering, serving in other service organizations, and being present to support those needing help in many ways.
As the future remains unsettled for the Salvation Army and its community work, Mayes knows help will continue.
"So many people are coming, the need continues to grow and grow," she said. "(Derry) it's just home, it will always be special to me. But God has something in store for me."
A farewell celebration to honor both Mayes and Clark is set for Sunday, June 23, noon to 2 p.m. at the Salvation Army on Folsom Road.