A past filled with poverty and polio helps ex-pastor lead Salvation Army office PDF Print E-mail
Written by JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN |Sentinel County Editor   
Saturday, 02 February 2013 11:20
Rev. Bob Barr of The Salvation Army in Bowling Green. (Photo: J.D. Pooley/Sentinel-Tribune)
Rev. Bob Barr of The Salvation Army in Bowling Green. (Photo: J.D. Pooley/Sentinel-Tribune)
When Rev. Bob Barr pastored at a church, he was troubled that he had to focus solely on spiritual needs. He knew that other human needs also needed to be met.

"I was kind of frustrated with that," said Barr, who is both a pastor and a social worker. "I'm concerned with both the spiritual and the physical."

So Barr found a natural fit for his beliefs with the Salvation Army.

"They embody my vision," said Barr, who has been the social service worker in the Bowling Green office of the agency for 12 1/2 years.

Barr's qualifications go beyond the lessons he learned behind the pulpit and in social work classes. Like many of those who turn to the Salvation Army for help, he knows what it is like to live in poverty.

"I was raised poor," he said.

And he knows physical hardships.

"I had polio at the age of 2 and they said I would never walk again," said Barr, who beat the odds and walks with a limp.

His father, a factory worker in Michigan, had no health insurance. Barr's polio treatment was so expensive the family had to leave their house and move into a trailer - not the kind stationed in a manufactured home park, but the kind pulled behind a car.

The family moved frequently during Barr's childhood, he said, listing off the towns they moved to during each school year. There were no "safety net" programs back then, but his family survived often through the generosity of extended family members.

So when people come in for help from the Salvation Army, Barr looks at them with non-judgmental eyes.

"The vast majority of people are sincere. They are just trying to survive," he said.

Prior to taking over as the sole full-time employee in the Salvation Army's Bowling Green office, Barr pastored churches in the Marion area. He was assigned to poorer churches, where he felt drawn to reach out to members in need.

"I wanted to minister to people not being reached by churches," he said.

So now, as a Salvation Army social worker, Barr faces the opposite dilemma. Since the agency gets federal funding, he can't tend to spiritual needs - unless people ask.

"Not too many ask because they are more concerned about food in their mouths," he said.

Barr estimated between 80 and 150 families seek help each month from the Bowling Green Salvation Army office. They come in for help paying utility bills, referrals to the local food bank, help paying for medications, help buying gas to get to medical appointments, and transportation to work for newly-employed people who need their first paycheck to pay for transportation.

A good day for Barr is when he is able to meet people's needs.

"Generally I'm just glad to help people," he said.

A bad day is when the funding runs out.

"We're limited by our funds," Barr said. "A bad day is when we have a lot of people coming in and no money to help them."

The agency's funding comes from a variety of sources - including federal funding, United Way, local utilities, and donations to the annual red kettle campaigns.

"Everything that comes from the Bowling Green kettles stays in the Bowling Green area," Barr said.

Last year, that added up to about $40,000. But donations can fluctuate. "A lot of people who used to help us now come in for help," he said.

And grant funding isn't always predictable.

"We never know from year to year if we're going to get them or not."

In addition to help with utilities, gas and medicines, the Salvation Army also uses its funding to help less fortunate families with holiday food baskets, Christmas gifts for children, summer camp for children, school supplies, and winter coats for children.


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