By Jenny Qi

Major Jeff Strickler’s efforts to help fight hunger have touched thousands of lives in Mower County and beyond over his 40 years of service.

Jeff Strickler always wanted to help people. After double-majoring in sociology and psychology in college, he was considering going into counseling or psychological research. Feeling like he needed some guidance and direction, he started reading the Bible and decided to commit himself to Christianity. Soon after, in one of those moments that can change the course of a life, he learned about the Salvation Army. “I was visiting my grandmother’s house and she happened to have a copy of the Salvation Army magazine,” he recalls, “I discovered it was a church and I was looking for a good one to get involved with at the time.”


Headshot of Major Jeff

“One of the things the Salvation Army has always been known for is to try to reach out to the hurting, the lost, the homeless and try to help out and be there for them in whatever ways we can,” said Major Jeff. “It really felt like it was a calling.”

Major Jeff Strickler, Salvation Army

The more he learned about the Salvation Army’s mission, the more certain he became that the program’s values aligned with his own. “One of the things the Salvation Army has always been known for is to try to reach out to the hurting, the lost, the homeless and try to help out and be there for them in whatever ways we can,” said Major Jeff. “It really felt like it was a calling.” This is exactly what he wanted to commit himself to. Through his involvement in the organization, he met his now-wife Cindy, who was already a Salvation Army officer at the time. Shortly after, he followed in her footsteps.

For the next four decades, Major Jeff and Cindy served in many postings throughout the Midwest. They served in the Twin Cities for 11 years and were appointed to Austin, Minnesota, in 2019. “We have had wonderful experiences getting to know people in the community and to see how supportive Austin is of the Salvation Army,” Major Jeff said. “It’s a real neighborhood kind of community where people take care of each other and do what they can to help. So that’s been very inspiring.”

In addition to being a Protestant Christian church, the Salvation Army is an international charitable organization that offers numerous programs and services to people in need. Their programs include food shelves, emergency services, utility assistance, youth groups and community meals. “We serve meals to the community four nights a week,” Major Jeff said. “Anyone that’s hungry is welcome to come and eat.” 

A salvation Army free meal service in Austin, MN


The free meals and the food pantry have been a major part of Major Jeff’s work in Austin. The food shelf provides fresh produce, dairy and protein, and serviced the community throughout the pandemic. Each year, the Austin Salvation Army serves over 10,000 people and distributes an estimated quarter million pounds of food.

In Austin, as with all of their postings over the years, the work Major Jeff and Cindy have taken on has been a true partnership. “Over the years some people have asked me how it has been to work with my husband and be together 24-7,” says Cindy. “The truth is that I’ve loved every minute of it. It has been wonderful to have our last appointment in this beautiful little community.” 


Mower County Community Leaders Collaborate

As a Salvation Army leader in Austin, Major Jeff was a natural fit for the Hometown Food Security Project. Convened in May 2022, the effort brings together a coalition of local organizations, companies, government agencies and other hunger-relief stakeholders to reduce food insecurity throughout Mower County. 

“The Hometown Food Security Project was definitely something that we wanted to be involved with,” said Major Jeff. “We already had the largest food shelf in Austin and in Mower County. We thought we were positioned to make a difference.

The coalition has been meeting regularly to identify opportunities and implement community-driven solutions to tackle food insecurity. One of the gaps the coalition identified was in services for the homeless. 

Major Jeff, center, with volunteers at a Salvation Army meal service


“An area where Mower County has a lot of challenges is helping people once they’re homeless to either get rehoused or to be provided for in the interim,” Major Jeff said, pointing out that in 2023, Mower County did not have a homeless shelter at all. The Salvation Army provides housing support in the form of one- to three-day motel vouchers and a men’s shelter in a neighboring county. Major Jeff emphasized that the organization takes a holistic view of individuals. “One of the biggest things we do to fight homelessness is the rent and utilities support program, because we really try to defeat homelessness before it occurs.” 

Major Jeff’s participation in the Hometown Food Security Project has been critical to its success. Among many other efforts, he has led the Mobile Food Pantry action team, whose objective has been to bring food pantries to areas that have less access. The action team has hosted two pilot tests across different locations in Mower County, serving nearly 70 individuals thus far, with plans to scale up. 

Inspiring Future Generations

For Major Jeff, faith and service are deeply intertwined, and he is passionate about inspiring others to serve their communities too. “One of the big opportunities we have for people is to volunteer for our food shelf. A lot of people really love that. It’s a neat opportunity to connect with people, but also, they know they’re making a difference as they serve others in that capacity. Once they come and experience that, they’re hooked.” 

Major Jeff particularly wants to inspire younger generations to get involved. “When we were working with kids in our shelter years ago, one of the best things that we did was to take them into the community to provide some kind of community service. We used to visit nursing homes at Christmas and Easter. The kids discovered how they could help others, and it kind of took their minds off their own problems.”

The Salvation Army in Austin, MN


The Salvation Army’s community meal program also has a lot of high school student volunteers, who can earn credits or money for college through the Hormel Foundation Austin Scholarship. “It’s a nice thing, and I think it really encourages young people to get involved and to do something to help and benefit the community.”

Empowering the Community

Having worked across many different communities over his long career, Major Jeff places a strong emphasis on understanding and responding to specific local needs, which requires the kind of strong communication and analytical work the Hometown Food Security Project has been doing. “It’s been a blessing to be involved with so many people trying to build hunger security in our county.” 

Ultimately for Major Jeff, it’s important to empower communities and individuals toward self-sufficiency, especially as he and Cindy prepare to retire this month and let the next generation take over. But they feel optimistic about how Austin will fare in their absence. “I see a huge community interest in making a difference,” Major Jeff said. “They really reach out and help people who are in need. They’re very generous and supportive of what we try to do here in the Salvation Army. So as far as the communities I’ve been in, Austin is at the top.”