Thanks to Art Howard, 1,000 county families enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner and opened presents on Christmas morning.

Howard, 56, director of the Salvation Army's service unit extension department, has been working since September to make sure that no local family in need had to go without this holiday season.

Working with local human service organizations, Howard and other Salvation Army volunteers matched families with churches, businesses and civic organizations that put together baskets of food, clothing and toys for the holidays.

Howard estimated that their efforts resulted in Thanksgiving dinners for 500 families and the distribution of $20,000 worth Christmas toys.

The holidays are always hectic for Salvation Army workers, but this year was especially stressful for Howard.

A couple of weeks before Christmas, his wife became ill and was admitted to the hospital.

Howard still managed to make the daily trip from his home in Wyoming, Del. to the Salvation Army office in Columbia to supervise the holiday giving efforts.

By distribution day, Dec. 19, his wife had been released from the hospital, and with help from Salvation Army volunteers, all the holiday baskets were delivered.

"That's when we sit back and sigh and rest," Howard said.

But not for long.

The Salvation Army is most visible during the holiday season. But Howard works year-round raising funds to help out people whenever they're in need.

His wife is also a volunteer.

"We're able to relate Christianity and good things to people as well as take care of their needs," he said. "We don't go out on a corner and preach. We counsel if they want counsel; sometimes it's not always a monetary problem they may have. We're always there to help."

To Howard, the notion of service is second nature.

At age 5, he was a Salvation Army volunteer, like his father and grandfather before him. He's been working full time with the organization since 1973, when he retired from the military.

As coordinator of Salvation Army activities in Maryland and West Virginia, he is constantly on the road. Traveling between the two states and his home in Delaware, he covers more than 80,000 miles a year.

"Our children are grown, and we have two grandchildren. We want to give something back to Jesus Christ," Howard said of his commitment to the Salvation Army. "He gave to us, now we're giving it back."

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