ANCHORAGE — Being a mechanical contractor is Nick Pepperworth’s day job. His second job — although he won’t admit it — is being a hero.
Over the last seven years he has raised more than $198,000 for Alaska’s Salvation Army through its online Red Kettle campaign and annual Season of Giving fundraiser lunch that kicks off every bell ringing season.
“Nick has led the nation for the last three years in the number of contributions to his online Red Kettle,” state Salvation Army Commander Maj. George Baker said. “He would not tell you that. Every time I mention that to someone and he’s standing there he just blushes and says, ‘Aw, c’mon.’
“He’s kind of indicative of a lot of people in Alaska — he just wants to help.”
The tallied donations Pepperworth has gathered are in addition to the untold amount that has been dropped in a storefront kettle while he rang his unmistakable Salvation Army bell.
Disarmingly jovial and ever humble, Pepperworth said surrounding himself with giving people has been instrumental to his volunteer effort. The “top brass” at the company he works for, Udelhoven Oilfield Services Inc., are regulars at the fundraising lunches in Anchorage, he said.
He also serves on the Alaska Salvation Army Advisory Board and Finance Committee.
In 2011, Pepperworth was invited by national Salvation Army officials to Dallas to be recognized for his fundraising prowess at halftime of the Thanksgiving Day Dallas Cowboys game and to kick off the official season of bell ringing. He sent one of his co-workers, an avid Cowboys fan, instead.
“The secret to success is having good friends and a company that supports you — you couldn’t do it without that. I might have to herd the cats, but you’ve got to have the cats,” he said.
While Pepperworth contributes to the army’s mission of “Doing the Most Good” from the outside, Baker is the fifth generation in his family to join the cause. His son was commissioned in June as a Salvation Army lieutenant.
“I believe in our mission. I believe that as long as there are people in need there is a need for an organization like ours,” he said.
It’s the people of the Salvation Army that pushed Pepperworth to give his time to the organization. Pepperworth described his first encounter with the Salvation Army in 1969 when he was asked to volunteer in a thrift store: “I was kind of a ne’er-do-well youngster and I ran into a captain in Bellingham, Wash. Kindness is contagious and the Salvation Army people are kind, humble and loving without discrimination. Why wouldn’t you want to align yourself with people like that?”
Volunteering is something that is now a cherished activity throughout the entire Pepperworth family, he said.
Pepperworth and his fellow Alaskan volunteers raised $4.8 million in 2012, Baker said. Of that — loose change to checks — $595,000 was dropped in Red Kettles across the state during the Season of Giving between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Admittedly, Pepperworth “can’t stand loose change,” but he’s happy to count it, he added.
The Salvation Army also takes advantage of the significant in-kind food and clothing donations it receives, according to Baker.
He said the state goal is $600,000, despite the calendar cutting the season by five days this year. All of the money raised in Alaska supports in-state programs, he said.
The Alaska district of the Salvation Army touched almost 82,000 Alaskans in 2012, or about one-in-nine people in the state. In doing so, Salvation Army workers managed to turn 85 cents of every dollar donated directly into much-needed food, shelter, or counseling. The Salvation Army’s national average is 82 cents on the dollar. Such a high rate of return on a donor’s investment is made possible by the 3,000-plus Alaskans who volunteer with the Salvation Army every year, Baker said.
“In Sitka, our thrift store is managed and operated completely by volunteers. Our social services office is managed by volunteers and that’s true in a lot of our smaller communities,” Baker said.
“We have a tremendous core of volunteers, which allows us to keep our personnel costs down,” he added. “Like most nonprofit agencies we’re not known for paying the highest wages. A lot of people work for us because they believe in what we do and they’re willing to take a little less pay than if they worked for a for-profit corporation.”
The Salvation Army has posts in 17 communities in the state, and it’s reach stretches much farther.
Every day more than 400 meals are delivered to seniors and shut-ins around the Anchorage Bowl, Baker said. On Thanksgiving, that number jumps to 600. Statewide, the Meals on Wheels program delivers more than 125,000 meals to older Alaskans annually.
The McKinnell House in Anchorage offers a temporary sanctuary to families that become unexpectedly homeless for any number of reasons. Baker said the shelter, with 16 “mini-apartments,” has a continuous waiting list.
The Salvation Army was also in Galena through fall helping residents there rebuild and resettle after spring floods all but destroyed the Yukon River community.
“We’re typically on of the first agencies in and one of the last out,” when people are in need, Baker said.
Truly, the Salvation Army gives Pepperworth an avenue with which he can share his positive vibe.
“I just want to say ‘Merry Christmas, God Bless and thank you,’ to anybody,” he said, “whether they give or they don’t give.”