Many newlyweds spend their first holiday season together baking pies for the family and creating their own traditions. However, Lieutenant Kendra Hixenbaugh and her new husband Joseph will be spending the season working hard to make sure Niles families are able to enjoy their holidays.
Having just been married in June, Kendra and her husband moved to Niles to serve as pastors and administrators of the Niles Salvation Army.
“It’s been kind of crazy,” Kendra said. “But it’s been good.”
Kendra’s duties tend to focus more on programs, meaning she will handle many of the organization’s holiday activities, though her husband will organize volunteers to ring bells for the Salvation Army’s famous red kettle donation program.
Kendra said the holiday program she is most excited for is called the Toy Shop. For the Toy Shop, the Salvation Army sets out tables full of toys for different age groups. Parents can then come and “shop” through the tables to pick out Christmas presents for their children.
“[With the Toy Shop] parents can choose what they want to give their kids,” Kendra said. “We aren’t just bagging up gifts for them and hoping they will like it.”
Being the child of a Salvation Army officer, Kendra has been exposed to Toy Shops from a young age, saying she helped her mother run them while she was in high school.
Having so long been exposed to the holiday programs, Kendra says she never gets tired of seeing the joy on people’s faces when she is able to provide them with a gift they could not have gotten otherwise.
“Getting to see parents choose the gifts for their children is very rewarding,” Kendra says. “We’ve had parents get bikes, then say, ‘There was no way I could have afforded a bike for my child. Thank you so much.’ That’s a good feeling.”
The kettles and the Toy Shop are well established Salvation Army programs, and though the Hixenbaughs are attempting to start giving away food baskets to families in need, Kendra said that she and her husband plan to stick mostly to established Salvation Army programs before attempting to add their own programs.
“This is our first year. We are keeping things mostly the same. We don’t want to come in and change everything,” Kendra says. “We are still new to Niles. We don’t know everything yet. These programs have been successful for a long time. We don’t need to change them for a while.”
With all the holiday programs the Salvation Army puts on, Kendra and her husband expect to be very busy over their first holiday season as a married couple, but say they wouldn’t have it any other way.
“This is what we love to do. This is how we spend our time,” Kendra says. “Giving is always worthwhile.”
How to give:
To donate to the Niles Salvation Army or to volunteer, contact the organization at (269) 684-2660.
Photography by Wes Jerdon/Westley Leon Studios