The newly-assigned Pine Bluff officer for the Salvation Army said that while he wears many hats, including being a counselor, youth worker and janitor, his primary job is that of a pastor. Lt. Kyle Madison, who, with his wife, Lt. Sarah Madison, was assigned to Pine Bluff in early October, was the guest speaker at the monthly Coffee with the Chiefs, sponsored by Interested Citizens for Voter Registration and held at First United Methodist Church.

Madison said the Salvation Army began in London in 1865 when William Booth saw a need to preach because churches had what he described as a “pew tax” that prevented a lot of poor people from attending.

“You had to pay to sit in a seat,” he said.

Madison said Booth began a street ministry in front of a pub, then started a soup kitchen because people were hungry, then, with his son, got a horse and wagon and picked up drunks off the street in an effort to help their addiction.

“You’ve heard of falling off the wagon,” he said at the Tuesday event. “That meant they went back to their old lifestyle. Our main thing is to bring the gospel to people who need it the most when they need it the most.”

Madison said the Salvation Army is now in 128 countries and came to America, beginning in New York. He said he and his wife had just gotten married when they received notice to come to Pine Bluff from Oklahoma City, where they had been stationed.

“We got a month, maybe two months notice,” Madison said.

He described the Christmas season as “the most intense season for a Salvation Army officer,” beginning with the Red Kettles, which actually started with a former Navy Captain who saw a big black kettle that he painted red and intended to use to make soup.

“He started playing a horn in front of it and people started throwing their change in,” Madison said, adding that while he is looking for volunteers to ring bells at the kettles, the Salvation Army will also be employing 10 to 15 people to do the job.

Madison said .95 cents of every dollar collected during the campaign remains in Pine Bluff to help local programs.

“My wife and my salary are under the poverty line, but we believe the Lord will provide,” he said. “We don’t do this for the money.”

Another part of the Christmas activity involves the Angel Trees, which this year will be located at Walmart, the Donald W. Reynolds Community Center and at Relyance Bank.

“My wife is actually in charge of that,” he said. “We’re asking people to come to the trees, get a card with the name of a boy or girl and buy gifts for that child so their parents can come pick up the gifts that they otherwise could not afford.”

The Pine Bluff Salvation Army is located at 501 E. 12th Ave., and Madison said the building provides emergency shelter for eight men and four women; it also has a family room.