COLUMBIA — Four years ago, a woman came to the Salvation Army during the Christmas season looking for assistance for her family.
However, the organization's holiday deadline had passed, and she was turned away.
Before the woman could leave, Katrina Mathews appeared and invited her into the office, listened to her story and prayed with her. Then Mathews gathered up toys, clothing and other donations to give the woman.
When other Salvation Army volunteers asked why she agreed to bend the rules, she answered: “What if that was my family?”
This small incident illustrates the generosity and compassion of Katrina Mathews and her husband, Kendall, said Randi Smith, manager of the Salvation Army Thrift Store.
For the past four years, Kendall Mathews has served as the Salvation Army's regional coordinator and his wife has been director of special services for Columbia/Jefferson City. Unofficially, they have been mentors, friends and pastors to their clients, employees and volunteers.
To acknowledge their contributions, friends have organized a farewell open house Thursday at Salvation Army headquarters, 1108 W. Ash St. The event will be held from 12:30-1:30 p.m.
The couple has been transferred to St. Louis as administrators of the Salvation Army's all-male rehabilitation center in the Forest Park area. The Mathews will also oversee seven thrift stores, four more than they run in Columbia.
Their successors are Richard and Beth Trimmell, who are moving to Columbia from Chicago. He was the assistant principal at the Salvation Army College of Officer Training, and his wife worked as the family care center director for the college.
Both couples start their new assignments on June 27.
When the Mathews came to Columbia, the Salvation Army was struggling to be recognized by the community as more than just a thrift store and social service. Four years later, Smith said the couple has put the organization back on the map, getting the message out about the worship services and other programs.
The Mathews hope to make a similar impact as they move into their next assignment. They say they plan to carry on their vision of recycling goods, reclaiming lives and rebuilding families.
In St. Louis, they will be working with men who have alcohol and drug addictions, many with recent histories of incarceration.
Although they know they will not be able to reverse trends in homelessness, despair, crime and other social issues all in a single gulp, they want to do everything they can, even if that means helping one person at a time.
“Ministry is not just about giving someone a cup of cold water. It’s about taking time to get to know that person,” Kendall Mathews said. “It’s relational.”
They also want to be advocates, to stand in the breach for the disenfranchised and be a voice for people who need help.
“(My hope is) to be able to bring their families along side of them with their addiction and whatever they are going through,” Katrina Mathews said. “I want the client to really see what his addiction has brought to his family.”
To have real impact, the Mathews say they need to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with all those they help, whether client or employee. Their work is not behind the desk, they say, but out in the field.
“It’s about helping people to see the reality of life, may it be sad or despair we try to bring them into reality so they can see the hope,” Katrina Mathews said.
Volunteers and staff members say they have been infected with the Mathews' spirit.
“You can see Major K.K. (Kendall) anywhere in Columbia and he will be encouraging someone, somewhere,” Smith said. “From smiling at people as he rides on his bike to praying with people in the store, he is always encouraging.”
After watching Katrina Mathews' ministry and her positive outlook, Salvation Army volunteer Rita Haralson-Alford, 53, began thinking about what she could do with her life. She is now attending Central Christian College of the Bible in Moberly to earn her degree in Christian counseling.
Although both Mathews grew up interested in community service, neither anticipated that they would become Salvation Army officers. Both have the title of major.
Kendall Mathews was raised in Detroit with divorced parents. Although he insists he had a happy childhood, he always felt a sense of brokenness because he could not fix his parents' marriage. That made him interested in social work and counseling, he said.
“I wanted to help provide hope to brokenness, peace to un-peaceful situations, joy where there was grief, despair and sorrow,” he said.
He joined the Salvation Army during his junior year of college, working at the organization’s camp in Wisconsin. After graduating from Greenville College in Illinois with a bachelor's degree in social work, he moved to the west side of Chicago to be a social worker in the Army’s Midwest Corps.
With a mutual friend’s encouragement, he met Katrina on a blind date in Chicago.
She had been raised in Chicago in what she calls the heart of the ghetto. Although she grew up in a housing project and was surrounded by poor neighbors, she said she never considered herself poor.
A grandmother, who raised her, always made sure she had enough food to eat and clothes to wear. She never experienced the homelessness and hunger that many of her neighbors endured.
Instead, she said she reached out to those in need and has been involved in community service ever since. She can even remember making grilled cheese sandwiches for the hungry children in her neighborhood after her grandmother left for work.
She knew about the Salvation Army because of its work in her neighborhood. She was never involved in any Army programs, other than attending Sunday school there because her church was too small.
The spiritual side of the organization ultimately drew her into service. When she became an officer in the Salvation Army, she said it seemed to be the life she was supposed to be living.
The couple married in Chicago in 1987, became Salvation Army officers together in 1991 and now have five children. Three adult sons live in Michigan, a daughter graduated from Rock Bridge High School this year and their youngest son will begin his junior year of high school in St. Louis next fall.
The Mathews moved to Columbia from Detroit where Kendall Mathews was the city commander.
They believe their involvement in Columbia and Jefferson City as both parents and citizens has helped stitch them into the community.
Being seen as more than just Salvation Army officers has allowed trust to grow, they said, and it has helped their work. They insist that the community gave them as much as they gave back.
“As we go from here, we have spiritually grown up, we’ve physically grown up, we’ve holistically grown up,” Kendall Mathews said.
“We have grown in character and in kindness to reach out to people based on our experiences in Columbia and Jefferson City.”
The community has shown it is full of servant leaders, Kendall Mathews said.
Volunteers turned out every winter to ring bells for the kettle campaign in bitter weather. Dozens served Thanksgiving dinner at Lee's Famous Recipe Chicken.
Others helped plant gardens at Salvation Army residences. And MU Athletics Director Mike Alden gave the Mathews permission each year to have a kettle cook-off during the last home football game.
“As we think about leaving, we realized we leave a legacy of hope and love and transformation,” Katrina Mathews said.
“People’s lives have really been changed. I think ours maybe more than theirs.”
Supervising editor is Jeanne Abbott.