Divisional Outreach Amid COVID-19

The Salvation Army Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi has been here to help our neighbors in need throughout 2020. Due to back-to-back hurricanes and the global COVID-19 pandemic, added hardships have left many in a much greater need than ever before, and The Salvation Army was blessed and happy to be available to serve. Here are a few stories from throughout the ALM Division.

 

Vicksburg

A client lost their job at a daycare center due to COVID-19 restrictions. The daycare closed and has not yet re-opened. The client has been looking for a new job for four months and has not found anything yet. In May, the Vicksburg Corps has been able to assist her with utility payments. Her water had been turned off, so The Salvation Army provided the client with drinking water and contacted the water company to help sort through her bill. The water company agreed to turn her water on the day the invoice was paid in full, so the Army paid the balance. Vicksburg Corps Officer, Major Janna Torgerson, hand-delivered the water bill, so the water was restored before the weekend.

 

Greenwood

A young mother of four was laid off from work and had recently experienced a house fire that resulted in losing all of her belongings. The Salvation Army of Greenwood gave her a clothing voucher to provide clothes for her and her children. The Greenwood Corps doesn’t have a shelter, so the Army covered a week’s stay in a hotel and helped the client to contact other local resources that could help. Corps Officers, Captains Jason and Keisha McMullin ended the time with the client in prayer and invited her to participate in the Pathway of Hope Program Ministry. The Army will assist in furnishing her new home.

 

Tuscaloosa

The Salvation Army in Tuscaloosa made a difference in a family with 13 children. As school approached this August, after a tough summer of layoffs and other stressors of COVID-19, the family needed everything. The Salvation Army provided clothes, backpacks, school supplies, snacks, and spiritual reassurance for a positive school year for all the children.

 

Huntsville

The Salvation Army of Huntsville has had the opportunity to assist several individuals who have never been in a position where they needed assistance. As first-time clients, they were nervous, embarrassed, and stressed. Huntsville Corps officers and staff were able to minister to them, share love and understanding instead of judgment.

 

Monroe

The Salvation Army of Monroe has provided meals, financial assistance, utility assistance, and housing throughout the Northeast Louisiana community to those affected by COVID-19 and back-to-back Hurricanes Laura and Delta. During a community feeding, a hungry woman stopped by the canteen for food for both her soul and physical being. After learning about The Salvation Army, she began to cry hysterically to be a blessing to her and others in the community. “This encounter was an emotional one for not only myself but others who were there,” Monroe Corps Officer, Captain Jerry Casey shared.

 

Gadsden

A deaf woman visited The Salvation Army of Gadsden shelter and could only communicate through sign language. Luckily, a corps staff member was fluent in sign language. This person was a Canadian citizen and did not have any family in the United States. In addition to serving her through shelter, the staff worked with the Canadian Embassy in Atlanta, Georgia, to contact her family back in Canada. The embassy provided an airplane ticket back to Canada and provided a temporary passport for the client to cross the border and be near home.

 

Providing Food and Hydration to Students in Walker County Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

The Salvation Army of Walker County, AL has assisted the Walker County, Marion, Winston, Coleman, Marshall, and Blunt communities throughout the pandemic by helping with rent and utility payments, delivering meals to the elderly, and grocery services, but the most unique service that this corps has provided during the pandemic is partnering with the Jasper County School System to provide snacks and hydration to students who are without water. Due to COVID-19 safety precautions, all school water fountains are off-limits, leaving many students who do not bring water dehydrated throughout the school day.

“We have a relationship with the school district, so I reached out to see what could be done for students doing the pandemic. It’s great to be able to help our neighbors,” stated Cynthia Smith, Walker County Service Center Director.

Nearly 87% of students are below the poverty level and have zero percent parent participation. After a Stuff the Bus school supply drop off, Smith asked what The Salvation Army could do to assist these children in need. The school principal asked for the Army to provide water and juice to students. Teachers have provided these supplies in the past, but it gets expensive over time. The Salvation Army received a grant to provide the school with hydration and snacks for the entire school year. Water delivery services began in October 2020, and hundreds of cases have been delivered to schools since then.

 

“If there’s a problem, there’s a solution.”

 

During Covid-19 isolation, students at Maddox Intermediate School in Jasper County had to bring the proper paperwork to schools to enroll for online learning. One of the students confided in the school librarian, Molly Bailey, informing her that she didn’t have food at home. Bailey, a United Way Spokesperson for Jasper County, called The Salvation Army and told Smith about her student’s situation.
“If there’s a problem, there’s a solution. I called Ms. Cindy [Cynthia Smith], and she immediately told me to go to Suns Grocery in Jasper and get that baby and that family whatever they need food-wise. No questions asked. It gives me the chills just thinking about this,” Bailey shared.

Bailey and another teacher grocery shopped for the student’s family and delivered the groceries to the child’s home. The confidentiality stays there so that the child doesn’t receive backlash for letting someone know that they need food.
“That teacher and I filled up two grocery buggies with groceries. We were thorough and thought through what we should get for the mom and her two daughters. We were able to feed this family for weeks and help the mom get back on her feet. We couldn’t have done that without Ms. Cindy and The Salvation Army. The mom didn’t ask for groceries, but it was the right thing to do,” Bailey stated.
Bailey signed up to volunteer with The Salvation Army during COVID-19 and became a regular volunteer.
“We built a rapport with the Salvation Army and ended up turning to them to partner to help our school systems provide water for students,” Bailey stated.
“I got my role of United Way spokesperson through volunteering with the Salvation Army. Ms. Cindy is a huge blessing to all of Walker County, whether we notice it or not. She does what she can to help those around her. No matter who they are., if she sees a need, she’s going to help or find someone who can. If we know there’s a need with students, we will help them,” Bailed added.

“There’s just so much that The Salvation Army does.”

 

The Walker County Service Center also partners with The Children’s Advocacy Center for abused kids. Comfort food provided by The Salvation Army helps these kids who have dealt with trauma to open up and become more welcoming to receiving help. The Army also helps Youth Advocate Programs (YAP), where students in foster care go for a safe place to visit with potential adoptive parents. These kids are also entered into the Angel Tree Program so that they can receive gifts for Christmas.
“That’s something they don’t have in their budget, but we do. So the organization comes to us for comfort food for their programs to help make the kids comfortable,” Smith stated.

 

“All of the kettles add up and it all helps.”

 

“I tell my funders that we’re blessed. Everyone has a role that God puts them in. For many, their role is the funder. It comes down to the journey of that donation. We’re on the front line. We see the donations and exactly how far every dollar goes when paired with other donations and how they help others. It’s huge. It all starts with the giving,” Smith stated.
“Partnerships are huge within our community. As we partner with other agencies, we can reach so many more people within our communities, but it all starts with that donor. If they didn’t do it, we couldn’t do what we do. For instance, with kettles. Many people think they are just sticking a little bit of change in it, but that change adds up. Last year, my granddaughter requested to add a kettle to her school. She and her classmates rang the bell upfront at their school for one week. At the end of that week, they’d raised $600 plus dollars in change from one small elementary school. That taught those kids what it means to give. You’re never too young to start giving, and you’re never too young to start volunteering. You can make a difference.
“All of the kettles add up, and it all helps. You figure out a way to make it happen, and you don’t stop. Our social services have not stopped since Covid-19 began, and that’s what you do. That’s what our mission is. That’s what we’re here for. You don’t stop when you’re tired; you stop when the job’s done, and it’s not done yet,” Smith added.

 

‘It must’ve been God‘: Carla’s story from New York to New Orleans

 

Carla turned to The Salvation Army New Orleans Command in early 2020 after being evicted from her Miami apartment. She lost her job due to a periodic reduction in force and was living on a fixed income. One month Carla ended up being $1.43 short on her rent. She was evicted and decided to leave Miami to return to New Orleans, a place she’d lived many years ago.

“That’s how you become homeless in the first place. You just don’t have enough money for your basic needs. At least there’s a place like The Salvation Army where people can go. At the end of the day, you have a roof over your head, and you have a meal,” Carla shared.

“It must’ve been God.”

 

Carla didn’t qualify for Medicaid after losing her job despite having diabetes. She entered The Salvation Army as a low-income senior. Many seniors are left in similar situations as Carla and don’t know where to turn. Thankfully, Carla turned to The Salvation Army.

“It must’ve been God because I didn’t choose any other place. I immediately turned to The Salvation Army. Looking back, it was the best decision I could’ve made,” Carla shared.

Carla worked as an artist in New York, doing restoration and embellishment for Mark West Gallery for over 20 years. After settling into her new life of living in a shelter, she walked out on faith and began working with a social worker to find employment. Carla came across a flier on the receptionist’s desk concerning a virtual job fair. She applied to a position with Volunteers of America, where she’d assist with packing lunches for school-aged kids during Covid-19 school shutdowns. She got the job and prepared meals for children until the position ended once schools reopened for the fall semester. Thankfully, an opening for a new cook at The Salvation Army New Orleans Command opened.

Carla enjoys baking pastries, so she applied for the job and was offered the position and will work with The Salvation Army until she retires next year.

“I worked in the art industry for 22 years and somehow ended up a cook at The Salvation Army,” Carla laughed. “I don’t question things, and I don’t believe anything is by coincidence,” she added.

“The Volunteers of America job ended up preparing me for my current position as a cook with The Salvation Army. Isn’t it funny how things work out?” Carla stated.

 

“The Salvation Army bolsters you if you’re smart enough to see it.”

 

Carla feels that she sometimes serves as a therapist to those who enter her kitchen. She ensures that everyone has a relaxing experience during their meals. Residents often linger to tell her about jobs that they’ve found or what’s going on in their lives. She also gets to interact with children who are staying at the shelter during meal times.

“I understand the people come through the line because I’ve lived with them. Not only am I a kitchen assistant, but I’m also a therapist. My job is to make dinner a pleasant experience for these people. They have to live outside all day in harsh conditions. I try to relay that if you’re still standing at the end of the day, you’re good. You’re stronger than the average person because you’ve learned how to survive under harsher conditions. It’s the truth. The Salvation Army bolsters you if you’re smart enough to see it. Sometimes you have to look outside of yourself,” Carla shared.

“There was one little girl who wanted an extra piece of cake at dinner, but I wasn’t able to give her one. Sometimes there’s enough food for seconds, and sometimes there isn’t. I saw the disappointment on her face and told her that I’d be sure to give her an extra slice the next day. She’d forgotten by dinner the next night, so I reminded her, and her face lit up so bright! It was adorable. I hope that if I do things now to touch these children who are in the shelter, maybe 10-15 years from now, they’ll remember and be kind to others. That’s how life works,” Carla added.

 

Majors Hull both told me not to worry. They would find me help, and everything would be okay.”

 

Carla says the most influential part of her short journey of living at The Salvation Army were her interactions with Corps Officers Majors Ernest and Debbie Hull.

“The greatest thing I got out of The Salvation Army was Major Debra Hull,” Carla shared.

“Major Debbie had a brand of discipline that I grew up with, and I give her all the credit for my sanity while living in the shelter. I just love her. Majors Hull both told me not to worry. They would find me help, and everything would be okay. That’s what kept me going. Those two are incredible people,” Carla added.

Carla and Majors Hull both share New York as their hometown and bonded over their shared culture.

“Both Major Debra Hull and I love Carla. She’s a wonderful person. We’re so proud of the effort she put in while in the shelter. She did everything she needed to do for her success. We were in COVID-19 isolation lock-down with her for 54 days in the shelter, so we became close. Carla became like a sister to us,” stated Major Ernest Hull, former New Orleans Commanding Officer, currently serving at the Armarillo, Texas Corps.

 

 “I’m happy to be able to spread a message of faith and strength to the people of The Salvation Army.”

 

A corps social worker reached out to Carla one day and told her that it was time to start working on an exit plan. Carla asked her to help look for a new home because she wasn’t familiar with New Orleans well enough to understand the best neighborhoods for her to live in.

“New Orleans is providential and backward to me! I don’t understand it, but that’s part of its charm. The people don’t move fast; everything is fluid,” Carla shared.

She found an apartment within a day and began the process of moving in.

“I love the city. I’ve been here before. I worked for Blain Kern in the ’90s. I left and went back home to New York for a while, but I’m back now,” Carla shared.

“I live near the French Quarter. Everything is within walking distance. It’s so convenient. I like being near the river. The Mississippi River and I have an amicable relationship,” she added.

Although she has returned to living independently, Carla enjoys returning to the shelter daily to positively contribute to people’s lives as a cook who can share a message of perseverance.

“You can lose your mind. You can literally lose your mind when you are homeless. I went from living in an apartment by myself for 15 years to living in a dorm room with 32 women who have all kinds of problems. I don’t get ruffled by a lot of things. I’m a New Yorker. I’m a progressive thinker. I see where people in the shelters are dealing with a lot. Multiple personality disorder, drug addiction, women who have dealt with abuse, or have dealt with the death of a child. I can see these people struggling to overcome their past. You see how some of them are so strong,” Carla shared.

“It’s important for everyone to know that you can make a situation as good or as bad as you want, and I’m happy to be able to spread a message of faith and strength to the people of The Salvation Army,” Carla added.