Their people are well known for ringing bells, but rarely toot their own horn.

However, the local office of The Salvation Army social service agency and Christian church wants to change that a bit.

Agency leaders will host “Behind the Shield,” a free, first-time awareness and educational gathering from 4 to 8 p.m. May 13 at The Commons, 300 Washington St. in Columbus. The ministry will have booths highlighting each element of its work in south central Indiana.

That includes:

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Youth summer camps

Supporting first responders and affected residents at fire scenes

After-school programs for local students

Men’s and women’s ministries

Bible studies

A Christmas Angel Tree program for needy families

And a food pantry, among other programs

Yet, Salvation Army staff and board members say few people seem to know much of the breadth and depth of their efforts. And they’d like to reach more people.

“We’re the best-kept secret in Columbus,” said Capt. Alan Sladek, who leads the social service agency and Christian ministry with his wife, Capt. Jodi Sladek.

The Sladeks have said that people know the Salvation Army for its annual Christmas-time Red Kettle Campaign — one that last year raised $115,672 and funds the ministry’s annual budget that includes everything from a food pantry to after-school programs to children’s summer camp experiences.

Staff salaries and other administrative costs are funded separately.

Steve Fisher, a Salvation Army board member and its development director, said organizers have distributed about 800 invitations for the event. A crowd of 300 or more would be considerable, he said. The first 250 people will receive free light snacks from Chick-fil-A.

“We want people to know we have more than the (Christmas) kettles and the food pantry,” Fisher said. “We know, for instance, that the No 1. issue locally is the drug (addiction) problem.”

Fisher and Alan Sladek have talked especially since early this year of Harbor Light, the ministry’s Indianapolis-based addictions treatment facility addressing issues ranging from drugs to gambling.

But the food pantry serving about 1,000 families monthly is the ministry’s most visible, consistent, year-long outreach. It also hosts a weekly hot meal on a rotating basis as part of the local Love Chapel program hosted by area churches. Plus, it helps people with rent, utilities, emergency shelter, collects winter coats for the needy, and operates the 20-unit Booth Manor apartments for seniors, among other programs.

Anna Long said she certainly appreciates not just the outreach but the kindness and compassion of the local Salvation Army. She lost her home and all her belongings in a Fox Pointe Apartment fire Aug. 8. The Sladeks were on the scene while firefighters worked after eight units in one building burned.

Long was stunned by their kindness and caring.

“They’re people to comfort you and to listen to you at those times,” Long said. “It’s good to know there are such nice people in the world.”

And for her and other affected Fox Pointe residents, the Sladeks were more than nice. They gave them food and drinks on the scene, courtesy of the ministry’s mobile canteen, and also later donated store gift cards and other assistance. Days later, when Long dropped in at The Salvation Army office, staffers called her by name immediately and presented her with blankets and dish towels.

“They were absolutely awesome,” she said.

Getting to know the ministry

What: “Behind the Shield,” an open house educating and familiarizing the public with the wide-ranging programs of the local Salvation Army, a social service outreach and Christian church.

When: 4 to 8 p.m. May 13.

Where: The Commons, 300 Washington St. in Columbus.

Food: Free light snacks from the sponsoring Chick-fil-A restaurant to the first 250 arrivals.

Information: The ministry website at or the Facebook page at Columbus Salvation Army.

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Brian Blair is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at or 812-379-5672.