But helping means getting people back into "self-sustaining mode," she said, not reinforcing a system that makes people feel like they're stuck in a rut they cannot climb out of.
"We talk about giving them 'a hand up, not a handout,'" she said.
Ottumwa's Salvation Army's main focuses are its Meals on Wheels and summer feeding programs.
"I would like there to be more programs to help people with the challenges they have now," she said. "Since the economy is so hard ... something like budgeting classes, cooking classes. We need to help them sustain their lives longer."
Gibbons said she's learned that those struggling today are the "nouveau poor."
"They're the people who never expected to be poor," she said. "They're spending their retirement years taking part-time jobs to make ends meet. They thought what they had saved up was enough — and it's not. How do we help them get through those times? A lot of those people may feel like they've failed themselves, but they haven't. We need to help give them back control of their own lives and not just be a provider of services."
She said the Salvation Army needs to be one voice in helping to halt the sometimes never-ending cycle of a population dependent on government assistance.
"I don't have the answers for that, but we can help people one at a time and make them feel empowered," she said.
Gibbons said she's happy to be in Ottumwa and believes there are forward-thinking people in the community who will help further the Salvation Army's mission, as will her advisory board.
"I'm not here alone," she said. "I've got a good support system."
— To follow reporter Chelsea Davis on Twitter, head to @ChelseaLeeDavis.