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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Being Here: A Major on Poverty's Front Line

This is the time of year when Salvation Army Major Ivy Nash used to stand for hours at a time on street corners in Britain collecting money for the poor.


Nash is still standing on street corners, but now she's doing it in Moscow while serving soup to homeless people.


A year and a half ago, Nash left her hometown of Milton Keynes, just outside London, to come to Russia for three years to work with the Salvation Army, the international Christian group for whom she has worked for 30 years.


"I see human need, and I want to do something about it," said Nash, 52.


Initially, Nash was given the assignment of creating a day center for the elderly. But Nash said she quickly realized that she preferred to work in Moscow's railway stations, which have become magnets for the city's poor.


"Soup is the key to the door. I believe they see us as friends, sometimes their only friends," said Nash, adding that Russians sometimes view the homeless as the "scum of the earth." But, she said, "We treat them as human beings."


Every weekday at 5:30 P.M., Nash pulls up to Kursky station in her red Neva and, with the help of a Russian interpreter, starts serving soup to homeless people, who have come to expect her nightly visits.


An hour later she is doing the same thing at Paveletsky station. In a typical night, Nash and her assistants feed several hundred men, women and children, about 50 percent of whom Nash said she knows by name.


Partly because of the rapport she has developed, Nash said she often feels called to help in other ways.


One night, for example, a woman who was a regular in the soup line failed to appear. Concerned, Nash said she went to look for her, and found the woman, extremely ill and crumpled in a heap on the floor of a metro underpass. After Nash and another Salvation Army worker loaded the woman onto a luggage cart, militia officers said they would take care of her.


Nash said she accompanied the woman to a hospital, where she died a few days later.


Not all of Nash's stories are heartbreaking. She tells of discovering a four-year-old girl with a group of men who said they had just "found" the girl wandering around, and planned to take care of her. Nash persuaded the men it would be difficult for them to care for the girl, and she turned the child over to militia women who help lost children.


Nash's devotion to her work is apparent in the emotion in her voice as she tells stories from the train stations -- anecdotes of finding lost children and talking with the poor. "How do you leave a child on the street?" she asked rhetorically.


Although Nash did similar work in the inner cities of Britain, she said her work in Moscow, where the Salvation Army has some 75 full-time workers, has been much harder than she anticipated. In Britain, "when you come up against a huge problem, you can do something about it," she said -- adding with a sigh, "Here you can't."


"When I came here, I wanted to do something that would really stretch me. Well, this has certainly stretched me," she chuckled. "It's an enormous privilege."