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Debbie's lifetime of Salvos by her side

Debbie's lifetime of Salvos by her side

Debbie's lifetime of Salvos by her side

18 December 2017

“When you’re really in need, the Salvos are always there. Every time I see them they lift me up. They lift me up, they put a smile on my face. They make me feel warm again.” Photo: Ben Moyes

By Lauren Martin

Debbie can distinctly remember a Christmas when she would have had nothing, had it not been for the Salvos.

When I was a kid, we’d just moved to Queensland and my dad had an accident at work. We didn’t expect to have a Christmas that year, but when the day came, we ran out and found presents under the tree. It was just magical. Years later, my mother told me that the Salvos had dropped off hampers of food and boxes of gifts. I’ll never forget that Christmas.

Later on in her life, when Debbie faced a crisis, she met Salvation Army officer couple, Majors Hilton and Joyce Harmer, at Sydney’s Downing Centre courts. They were the Court Chaplains and Debbie was facing a serious charge.

“If it wasn’t for Major Joyce and Major Hilton Harmer I would probably still be in jail right now,” she says. “They came up to me and introduced themselves and said that they are there for anybody there at the courts. And I just broke down. I just broke down. I hadn’t had any sleep. I hadn’t eaten, hadn’t drunk anything. I was just crying constantly because of the kids and losing contact with them, it was the hardest thing I ever went through.”

With the support of The Salvation Army, Debbie avoided a jail term. She was invited to stay at The Salvation Army’s Samaritan House accommodation service, where she spent a year working through the trauma associated with her abuse and her subsequent addiction issues.

“I hid behind the marijuana. I would sit down and smoke and smoke and smoke. I had to numb the body and numb the brain so I couldn’t feel anything anymore.”

During her recovery at Samaritan House, Debbie was able to increase her visitation rights with her seven children. When she moved out of Samaritan House and secured her own Housing NSW property, she began working on getting them all back home with her. But despite freeing herself from her abusive past and her addiction, life still presented its challenges.

Living on a Centrelink wage and supporting a family is tough, and there were times when Debbie had to ask for help. The Salvation Army was able to support her throughout the years with food and other emergency assistance. Yet Debbie often struggled to endure the hardships. One day, as she contemplated suicide, she heard a knock on the door. It was Major Hilton Harmer.

“He was going doorknocking and letting people know that the Salvos were about to start a barbeque for young people. And I said: ‘Major Hilton!’ and I could feel the tears rolling and I just gave him a big hug and I said, ‘I am so glad you came, this is a miracle’.”

Since then, Majors Hilton and Joyce Harmer have been a permanent fixture in the life of Debbie and her family. They have supported her through her darkest times, and one year dropped off Christmas gifts for her, her seven kids and her grandkids.

“I’ll never forget it,” she says. “When you’re really in need, the Salvos are always there. Every time I see them they lift me up. They lift me up, they put a smile on my face. They make me feel warm again.

“Hilton always comes around. He rings me up and says, ‘I’ve got some food here for you Deb’, and he drops it off to me. Every time I see them my heart goes pumping; it’s like seeing mum and dad again. Joyce is the same age as my mum and Hilton reminds me of my dad, the soft side of my dad.”

A few years ago, Debbie fell out of contact with her daughter and she thought she couldn’t go on with life. She stopped taking her life-saving medication (she suffers with emphesemia and asthma and has severe breathing difficulties) but at the last minute, changed her mind.

“I rang Major Hilton up and he went and got me my medication but it was too late, I’d already died. Apparently, I rang my nurse and told her to get here and she knew something was wrong so she got here.

“She reckons I opened the door for her but I don’t remember opening the door for her. All I remember is waking up at St George Hospital after a week being in an induced coma. Without Hilton and Joyce Harmer I’d probably be dead by now.”

Donate to this year's Christmas Appeal HERE.

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