Rick Reinhardsen has headed The Salvation Army on Martha’s Vineyard for more than 15 years, and has cherished every second of it.
As Reinhardsen stood in front of Edgartown Stop & Shop collecting money in his big red kettle, he told The Times the story of The Salvation Army’s inception on-Island.
“About 15 or so years ago, I was doing some family research and I learned that my grandparents were involved in The Salvation Army in New York,” Reinhardsen said. “They joined in 1888, and The Army had only really started in 1880, so they were around for the early stages.” Eventually, Reinhardsen said, his grandparents became Salvation Army officers, and his grandfather went on to become a colonel and served as the financial secretary and national auditor for the organization.
Reinhardsen thought that he might like to continue his family’s philanthropic interests and represent The Salvation Army himself. “I realized it would be a great organization to represent, just as my grandparents did for so many years,” Reinhardsen said. “The Salvation Army is in my blood.”
While growing up in Connecticut, Reinhardsen said his parents were both heavily involved in the local community, and never passed up a chance to help their neighbors. “I was always taught that if you live in a community, you give back to that community in any way you can,” he said.
So when Reinhardsen began exploring the opportunities that The Salvation Army could provide, he knew the Island would appreciate some of that support. “There was a huge need on the Island at that time, and there still is,” Reinhardsen said. “I wrote to divisional headquarters in Boston saying how much the Island could benefit from a Salvation Army presence, because there are so many who are struggling.”
He noted that Martha’s Vineyard has one of the highest costs of living and one of the lowest per capita incomes in the state, which creates difficulties surrounding year-round housing and food security.
Along with being chair of The Salvation Army on Martha’s Vineyard, Reinhardsen has also served on a number of different local boards, including Habitat for Humanity, several faith-based organizations, and was a West Tisbury firefighter for 25 years.
“My family has a long history of public service, and I guess I just followed along that path,” he said.
According to Reinhardsen, The Salvation Army’s mission is to fill the need for community members, no matter what that need might be. Although the three main pillars of The Army, Reinhardsen said, are food assistance, fuel assistance, and rental assistance, the organization also helps people get prescription eyeglasses, provides bus passes for folks who lack adequate transportation, and many other individual needs.
With COVID increasing financial stressors for Islanders, Reinhardsen said The Salvation Army is needed now more than ever. Oftentimes, the family car breaks down, a child gets sick, or a parent loses their job — and when something unexpected happens, Reinhardsen said support is available.
“Sometimes peoples’ entire financial situations are thrown out the window,” he said. “We try to help them through that rough spot.”
The organization also partners with other service agencies on the Island like Martha’s Vineyard Community Services and faith-based support groups.
And when a disaster strikes the Vineyard, Reinhardsen said The Salvation Army is on call to assist wherever they can.
A mobile canteen is posted at Reinhardsen’s house, packed to the brim with food and drinks, in the event that first responders need assistance. Recently, there was a missing person in Edgartown, and Reinhardsen said his team was there to provide snacks, coffee, and water to first responders who were working the scene.
They were also there during the bomb scare at Martha’s Vineyard Airport, providing breakfast to firemen, police, and airport personnel.
A lot of the success of The Salvation Army on Martha’s Vineyard, Reinhardsen said, is thanks to his dedicated team of volunteers. This year, 14 volunteers are helping with bell ringing and collecting money in the red kettles outside of store fronts, and around nine people are on the disaster relief team, who Reinhardsen said he can call on at a moment’s notice. The entire disaster relief team is ServSafe certified and trained to handle food, while Reinhardsen is certified as a ServSafe manager. This means that if an emergency shelter is opened on-Island, The Salvation Army disaster relief team will be there to provide assistance.
Recently, Reinhardsen was in charge of the logistics for an initiative that saw hundreds of thousands of food boxes sent out to families around the state in response to COVID.
From March through September, Reinhardsen said, The Salvation Army distributed more than 12 million meals statewide.
Through his life as a volunteer, Reinhardsen said he has been constantly impressed by the collective generosity and compassion of the Island community. “The majority of the people putting money in the kettles are Island people, because they understand that this money stays here — their neighbors might be in need, or they might be in need.”