The new directors of the Corning Salvation Army, the husband-and-wife team of Major Larry Wittenburg and Major Lynne Wittenburg, are heading into their first holiday season at the helm.
The holidays are perhaps the most crucial time of year for the Salvation Army - it's when the Red Kettle campaign and mail appeal bring in a big chunk of the Salvation Army's budget for the year, around 30 percent.
The Red Kettle money - combined with support from the United Way, Food Bank and other community groups - enables the Salvation Army to provide a wide array of social assistance programs, as well as after-school programs for youths.
This summer, the Wittenbergs took over for Capt. John Merchant and his wife, Capt. Kim Merchant, who left for a new assignment after 11 years in Corning. Salvation Army officers are typically married couples who are moved from city to city during their careers by the organization's commanders.
The Wittenbergs' previous post was in Norristown, Pa., which is in the Philadelphia area.
Wittenberg says he believes the problems in rural Steuben County are even more challenging than in the city.
"It's just an observation, but I think with the rural poor, a lot of the issues are much deeper," he said.
The good news?
"I find that it's more community-minded here," he said. "I guess the community is tighter-knit. In this community, I see a lot more volunteerism as far as our Red Kettle effort. I see lots of groups coming forward as bell-ringers.
"We could always use more, but a lot of groups are volunteering to ring at our Kettles. That's not something I saw in Norristown," he added.
This month, the Red Kettles are out at Centerway Square and Walgreens in Corning, Big Lots in Painted Post, Walmart in Gang Mills, and Tops, Kmart and Save-A-Lot in Bath.
The Salvation Army offers a food pantry and a "clothes closet" where people can pick up clothing they need, both open daily. There's also a Sunday community dinner and a monthly bulk food distribution.
The organization also provides help with rent and utilities for those in need. Every day after school, it provides activities, homework help and a meal for about 100 children.
On Dec. 19, the Salvation Army will distribute food for a Christmas dinner along with toys for kids to area families.
Those types of services are a top priority right now in the community, said Stephen Hughes, spokesman for the United Way of the Southern Tier, which provides health and human resources funding in the area.
The United Way allocated the Corning Salvation Army $146,000 this year.
"We are finding from the community a much higher level of importance centering around basic services for people in crisis - food, shelter, the type of things that the Salvation Army is delivering in the community," Hughes said.
Although it's been a long, slow process, the Salvation Army isn't wavering from its long-term goal: finding a bigger facility.
The current location on Denison Parkway is in decent shape, but it's cramped and has virtually no parking. And it's landlocked, so expanding isn't really an option.
"Our biggest needs are parking and a gym for the kids," Lynne Wittenberg said. "The kids can be rowdy, especially after being in school all day. They really need a place to burn off some energy."
She said they've been speaking with community leaders about grants and possible locations for the new facility, and that the Salvation Army will eventually a capital campaign.
The Wittenbergs oversaw the construction of a new facility in Norristown.