We all saw the Halloween decorations but where did November go? Holy smokes, folks! It’s almost Christmas! Only 20 days to go.
Every year, in honour of our love for the most wonderful time of the year, Huntsville Doppler’s extraordinary person profile focuses on someone extra special from the Salvation Army.
Remember our beloved Doug Dalrymple? Mr. Kris Kringle himself! Gone but certainly not forgotten. And his wife Sharon? She’s still there, working tirelessly with a dedicated team of volunteers who all pitch in to make Christmas magic happen for those less fortunate. And Krystal Fuller… she’s an angel disguised as a human. Ralph Gibson and his wife Cathy are still there, too. (You can read all about these selfless people by clicking the links above!)
With the Christmas kettles, the toy and food drives, and the generousity of this community, the Salvation Army is able to go above and beyond for hundreds of local families in need.
Ainslee Searle is a superstar volunteer at Salvation Army who does a lot of things because she wants to and because she can.
Ainslee Searle wipes her hands on her apron, fixes her hair and then smiles before she sits down.
“I didn’t know I was going to get my picture taken today. I don’t even have makeup on.”
She doesn’t need any. She’s a natural beauty and she’s adorable in her black Salvation Army cooking apron. She’s as sweet as she is nice and considering she’s being put on the spot for an interview and photo shoot, her kindness shines through. She agrees to share her story even though she’s not really feeling all that prepared. But when you speak from the heart you can’t go wrong. Ever.
It’s Monday afternoon and Ainslee is making homemade bread in the kitchen at the Salvation Army Church. The bread recipe isn’t completely top secret; Ainslee has shared it with a select few of her closest friends. But it means something special to her. Her mother passed it down to her and Ainslee has been using it for decades.
“I love to cook,” she says. She chuckles as she looks down at her apron, which is completely dusted in flour.
There’s concrete evidence to support that statement aside from the eight bread trays lined up on the counter and a giant bowl of rising dough. Ainslee is the one who makes the homemade soups served at the Salvation Army every Wednesday. The Salvation Army saw a need to help fill hungry bellies and Ainslee offered to make soup. She prepares it in the kitchen at the church on Tuesdays. Then she thought, ‘what goes better with homemade soup then homemade bread?’ So she started making that, too. It’s just one of the many nice things she does there.
“I was a single parent who raised five kids and most of their meals were homemade. One of their favourites was my homemade bread.”
You can sense the pride but it’s met with modesty. She immediately starts talking about how a collective effort of selfless, like-minded people make the Salvation Army what it is. A pillar of hope in the community. She’s humbled to be a part of it and always gracious.
Ainslee counts her blessings daily and sees the good in people. There is an air to her that is unconditional and genuine. It’s detectable from the moment you meet her. She can make anyone feel comfortable and cared for. It’s a beautiful quality.
I’m not here to judge. I try to be as friendly as I can and accept whoever comes through the door.
The Salvation Army Church on Mary Street has become Ainslee’s home away from home. It’s a place she felt called to three years ago. She was never big on religion growing up or even as an adult, but she has found a place at the church and she belongs there.
Five days a week, she makes the 30-minute drive from the tiny hamlet of Hekkla to Huntsville. She lends a hand “to do whatever needs to be done” and often she’s there for most of the day. From regular work like helping people get groceries at the food bank, to being involved in the community care ministries program (that means making special visits to local nursing homes), to making the bread and soup, it’s a wonder how she even has time to be part of the church’s beginners’ band.
And now, with Christmas fast approaching, things are getting busier by the minute. Ainslee helps collect donations through the Christmas kettles, pitches in with organizing the food and toy drives, and helps put together the Christmas hampers for families. Last night, volunteers and staff worked well into the night for the annual food drive.
“It’s a busy time but it’s an exciting time,” Ainslee says. “I’ve always been big on Christmas. I didn’t have a lot of money but I’d do my best to make it special for my kids. I always tried to instill a strong sense of family.”
Ainslee has always been hard-working. She was when she worked a full-time job while raising her children and she is now that she’s a volunteer. And this, what she’s doing for the Salvation Army, is part of her divine plan. It was in the cards for Ainslee. She’s certain of that.
It has filled my life. I can’t really explain it but I believe I’m supposed to be here. The things that I have seen now… it has opened my eyes. I used to have a heart of stone, or at least I thought I did. But serving here has changed me.
No one should believe that Ainslee had a heart of stone, not for a second. Perhaps what she means is that by seeing what poverty and homelessness and total despair looks like, it has opened her up to being more compassionate. And empathetic. She admits her job as a volunteer has forced her to come out of her shell. She used to be shy. A loner, she would say, and for a long time. Not any more, though. She meets people every single day from all walks of life. And she goes out of her way to make sure they feel welcomed.
All of a sudden the tone get serious. Yes, she says, there is satisfaction – on a soul level – knowing you are helping to make a difference in the lives of those less fortunate. But the reality is that there really are so many people in need and that can be heartbreaking. Devastating, really. Especially if you put yourself in someone else’s shoes.
“A young gentleman came in here and asked for a can of soup. He was going to eat it cold. I told him he was not going to eat that soup cold. I got a can opener and opened it and heated it up for him. You know, that actually made me cry. For some people, that soup will be the only meal they eat all day.”
And that is exactly what continues to drive Ainslee to want to do something. The unsettling truth that the struggle is makes her want to help for as long as she can. People are hungry and homeless. Believe it. Right here in our beautiful, little town. That bothers her. Deep down. She sees the ugly face of poverty every day. However, easing her mind a little is the fact that she’s lucky enough to be part of an organization that works tirelessly to help so many people. And to give hope.
Hope. A four-letter word that has big meaning. Like the late, great Christopher Reeves said, “Once you choose hope, anything is possible.”
And Ainslee truly believes that.
Don’t miss out on Doppler!
Sign up here to receive our email digest with links to our most recent stories.
Local news in your inbox three times per week!