After 15 years of waiting, the Mesa branch of the Salvation Army is finally on track to quadruple its space and enhance its services.
The plans include a new multipurpose building on the one-acre property adjacent to the site at 241 E. Sixth Street.
The Mesa City Council approved the group’s application for a council use permit, necessary for social service facilities, during a meeting Nov. 5.
The project is awaiting approval by the Salvation Army’s Western headquarters in California, which Maj. Brian Jones said he hopes will come in a couple of weeks. “It looks very positive,” he said.
The new building would house a larger food pantry, a walk-in refrigerator and freezer, a game room and offices that would give social service clients more privacy.
The game room is anticipated to be a community center, and the Salvation Army is even considering a fine arts academy for after-school dance and music classes for children.
The current conditions are cramped, Jones said.
Workers sit currently in an open room shared with the food pantry and refrigerators. The new building would free up space in the old building for classrooms and another assembly room.
“It’s really kind of exciting,” Jones said.
Along with those plans to expand, the Mesa Salvation Army is gearing up for its traditional holiday activities.
Its signature bell ringers will start chiming Nov. 20 and continue until Dec. 24. In 2004, Target stores began enforcing its rules against on-site solicitation, a big blow for Salvation Army collections.
But Jones said he recently received a $5,000 community grant from the Target company.
“Target offers money in other ways,” he said.
This year’s Thanksgiving dinner, mainly for seniors but open to everyone, will be furnished by the Cheesecake Factory for the first time.
And the center again will offer the Angel Tree program, which will place trees at Fiesta Mall this month and in December. The program allows people to purchase gifts for needy children.
In 2006, the Mesa Salvation Army assisted 2,534 children and received 9,618 donated toys with 432 volunteers.
The Salvation Army has been in Mesa since 1968. It started as a small mission and moved into its current home on Sixth Street in the early 1970s.
The latest addition was a chapel, which came in 1992.
The organization runs several programs at that facility, including tutoring with a partnership at Arizona State University, free lunches for seniors, church services and social services that include food, rent and medical help for Mesa residents.
The Mesa location serves the east side with the help of another site in Apache Junction. The Mesa site sees 300 families a week, and roughly 1,000 to 1,200 families a month.
Jones said the organization is funded mainly through private donations, with a small portion through a partnership with the state.
Jones and his wife, Gwendolyn, have been with Salvation Army for more than 20 years, but were only assigned to Mesa about 18 months ago.
“We love Mesa. They are very supportive of the Salvation Army,” Jones said. “A lot of Mesa residents are older and feel a kinship with the Salvation Army.”
The Salvation Army was created in 1865 by William and Catherine Booth to serve the poor in London.
It is structured in a military pattern, with a general, officers and soldiers.