Giving hope today: Williston Salvation Army helps those in need in the Bakken

Story and photos by Craig Dirkes/The Salvation Army

Captains Joshua and Rhegan Stansbury.

Captains Joshua and Rhegan Stansbury.

Business is booming at The Salvation Army of Williston, N.D. But it’s not the same kind of boom that Bakken oil companies are enjoying.  

The Williston Salvation Army’s “business” is helping people in need. And the number of people asking for help is skyrocketing. The charity has been providing food, gas vouchers and other critical social services to 250 percent more people since the Bakken boom first started—jumping from nearly 700 people in 2008 to almost 1,800 in 2013.

Brent Siu is one of those people. Like hundreds of others, he came to Williston from another state and wound up needing help from The Salvation Army. The truck driver from Chattanooga, Tenn., arrived last March and got a job hauling side-dump trailers. Six weeks later, he quit to open a painting business—and then ran out of cash during the transition.

“That’s when I started coming to The Salvation Army,” Siu said. “I got free bread, a food voucher and another voucher for $40 in gas. It’s the only time I’ve ever needed that kind of help.”

Stories like Siu’s are common at the Williston Salvation Army, while other cases are more extreme: Many people arrive having spent their last dime on a one-way ticket to the oil boomtown. When they don’t find work, they become stranded and homeless. Others do find work, but can’t find a place to live other than their car.

“That’s where The Salvation Army comes in,” says Captain Joshua Stansbury, who’s led the Williston Salvation Army with his wife, Captain Rhegan Stansbury, since 2011. “We are a church that provides critical services to people in need. We believe in the value of human life.”

Critical Services

Volunteers organize boxes of food and Captain Joshua Stansbury gives the food to people in need.

Volunteers organize boxes of food and Captain Joshua Stansbury gives the food to people in need.

The Williston Salvation Army’s social services budget has quadrupled in recent years, going from $50,000 in 2010 to about $200,000 last year.

One of the biggest local needs is fuel.

“We spend an average of $3,500 per month on gas vouchers for people living in their cars—they can’t afford to keep their vehicle running all night when it’s cold outside,” Joshua states. “That money also pays for propane for people living in trailers.”

The charity spends thousands more on bus tickets to help people in crisis return to their home states.

Another popular service: computer access. The Williston Salvation Army features a 10-computer lab that allows people to search for jobs online, create résumés and connect with their loved ones back home.

Of all the Williston Salvation Army’s services, food is tops.

“I can put an ad in the paper saying we need food, and the next week our pantry will be full—but it’s never enough,” Joshua says. “We spent $45,000 on food last year. That’s an amazing number when you consider most of our food is donated.”

Grassroots Support

Local residents, businesses and fellow churches have eased the Williston Salvation Army’s growing pains by giving extra amounts of time and money.

The 2013 holiday season is a perfect example. Locals gave $300,000 worth of kettle donations and other financial gifts—well above the charity’s $250,000 holiday fundraising goal.

Help came in other forms as well: Williston Middle School students gave 500 stuffed animals for children in need. First National Bank and Trust Co. donated a coin-counting machine that saved kettle officials hours of time. Williston-based construction company JMAC Resources donated 16,000 pounds of food.

“That’s only the start,” Rhegan Stansbury states. “We are blessed by the outpouring of support we’ve received in Williston not only during the holidays, but year-round.”

Volunteers organize boxes of food and Captain Joshua Stansbury gives the food to people in need.

Volunteers organize boxes of food and Captain Joshua Stansbury gives the food to people in need.

Willistonians also recognize that their time is just as valuable as their money. More and more volunteers have come knocking, asking to help do things like organize the food shelf or sort donations at the Williston Salvation Army Store, where locals can donate or buy clothes, furniture, household goods and other items.

The store is located a few blocks away from the Williston Salvation Army’s main facility at 15 Main St.  One day last November, a group of volunteers from global energy company Statoil walked into the store and cleaned its basement, which was piled high with unsorted merchandise.

“They came out 30 strong and ripped through a whole room of donations in two hours,” says John Hulteen, a Salvation Army Store administrator from St. Paul, Minn., in town that day to help overhaul the store and make it more customer-friendly.

Get Involved

The Williston Salvation Army’s need for volunteers and financial support is growing at the same exponential rate the Bakken is exploding.

“It seems ironic, but the richer this region becomes, the more our services are needed,” Rhegan says. “We are humbly asking for Williston residents to share their blessings with people in need by giving to The Salvation Army.”

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Exterior photo of the Williston Salvation Army.

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