NEWBURYPORT — Newburyporters are perhaps more fortunate than they know by having a vibrant Salvation Army facility right in the heart of the city, spreading good deeds and hope throughout the year.
Captains Jon-Erik and Jessica Berkhoudt are newly arrived officers who first met during their two years of in-residence education at The Salvation Army Training School in Suffern, New York.
After marrying a dozen years ago at their first duty station in Herkimer, New York, they served in Rensselaer, New York, and Providence, Rhode Island, before coming to Newburyport.
“The beauty of Newburyport was the first thing we noticed,” said Jessica, 35, who was born in Leominster and is happy being back in her home state.
While Jessica is the first of her family to join The Salvation Army, her husband, Jon-Erik, 40, comes from a long line of Army members.
Both of his parents are officers and his family’s Salvation Army service dates back to the Army’s beginning in 1865, when William Booth founded it.
The new officer team is eager to serve the entire region, often meeting with local officials in Amesbury, Salisbury, Newbury, West Newbury and Byfield.
“I think it’s important to meet with the people we serve in their own communities to assess their needs and offer our support,” Jessica said.
More than just talk, these fearless new officers are action-oriented, with the track record to prove it.
During Hurricane Irene in 2011 and Hurricane Sandy in 2012, they journeyed to hard-hit upstate New York State towns such as Schenectady and Binghamton to provide relief.
Undaunted by the weather, they filled rowboats with food, rowing them across completely flooded-out roadways to feed residents stranded by the storms.
“One of out biggest recent challenges was operating the Toys for Tots campaign with the Marines in Rhode Island during the height of the COVID crisis last year,” Jessica said. With the help of a dozen volunteers, they distributed Christmas gifts to 13,000 children.
This year, they are looking for 12,000 toy donations and plan to turn The Salvation Army gymnasium into a toy store where children from needy families can shop for toys without paying for them.
Also on their schedule is an annual New England Patriots holiday party, busing 16 children to Gillette Stadium in Foxborough to enjoy dinner and play games with Patriots cheerleaders and players.
Continuing programs include operating an overnight warming shelter with a capacity of 20 men and 15 women from December to February, 6 p.m. to 7 a.m., whenever the temperature falls below 28 degrees.
The Salvation Army drop-in shelter will also be open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily whenever the ambient temperature is less than 32 degrees.
Jessica and Jon-Erik have four children: Analise, 9, Adelyn, 7, Aiden, 6, and Austin, 3, who is remarkably energetic despite recent foot surgery at Boston Children’s Hospital.
For more information about the many social services available from The Salvation Army, to become a volunteer or to make a donation, go to the website: Massachusetts.SalvationArmy.org/MA/Newburyport or call 978-465-0883.