On Friday, April 3, 2020, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey announced an official Stay at Home order for the state of Alabama to help mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 virus. The order took effect on Saturday, April 4, and is in place until April 30. This mandate affects The Salvation Army throughout Alabama in many ways, most notably in shelter operations. The Salvation Army operates ten shelters throughout the state and all of them are now housing residents 24/7. Shelters that usually serve only breakfast and dinner are now serving three meals a day. This change to round-the-clock sheltering increases staffing needs as well as the need for more food and cleaning supplies. All Salvation Army shelters throughout the state are increasing daily cleaning and disinfecting measures throughout their facilities in an attempt to limit the spread of the virus and keep all shelter residents and staff safe and healthy. Alabama’s Stay at Home order is also resulting in the temporary closure of all Salvation Army thrift stores in the state, however, all Salvation Army locations are still providing social services.
The Salvation Army’s Birmingham Area Command has seen a tremendous increase in demand for emergency services including food and utility assistance requests since the onset of the pandemic. The Birmingham shelter has 111 men, women, and children currently in their care. They have identified apartments in the facility to use as quarantine or isolation if needed. The Birmingham Area Command currently has a week’s worth of food on hand for current residents and for their food pantry distribution. The need for food supplies has increased greatly as residents are now eating all three meals at the shelter. Additionally, snacks and drinks are provided throughout the day. Shelter residents are eating in shifts to allow for safe social distancing during meals. Hand washing/sanitizing is now required upon entry into the facility, at mealtimes, and before snacks.
The Birmingham Salvation Army reports that food assistance demand has increased by more than 300% since the onset of the pandemic. A drive-through food pantry is provided to the public twice weekly, and they are serving lunch to members of the community through a mobile canteen feeding truck on their Center of Hope campus.
To keep residents entertained, several activities a week are planned for the families in the shelter and residents are encouraged to spend time outdoors as long as they stay on campus and maintain social distancing. As of Monday, April 6, the Birmingham Salvation Army is assisting students in the shelter with their e-learning requirements through the on-site computer lab. Workforce development opportunities are also being offered to residents, with classes on job interviews, life skills, time management, and more.
“Our hope is to show our families the love of Jesus and that’s what we are trying to do every day,” said Major Paula Powell, Area Commander. “Showing our families we care about them and we love them makes all the difference.”
The Salvation Army of the Shoals in Florence, Alabama, is currently housing 19 residents. Cleaning has increased throughout the shelter due to its extended hours. There are no residents with COVID-19, but if a resident shows signs of the virus, they will be isolated in a separate living space and referred to the nearest hospital for proper screening.
On Friday, April 10, the Florence Corps will hold its third food giveaway since the onset of the pandemic. They have also partnered with local senior living facilities to deliver frozen chicken, prepared meals, and household goods, including toilet paper. The Army is also delivering meals to the YMCA, which is taking care of children of first responders, and distributing meals throughout the community to assist with feeding children who aren’t at the YMCA. Those meals are provided by the Florence School District.
“We have had to close down our family stores, which are a source of funding for all of our social service programs. This has put a strain on our budget, but we are continuing to serve the physical and monetary needs of our community who are affected by this pandemic. We need financial contributions to continue operating to the extent that our community needs,” stated Florence Corps Officer Captain Wendy Deuel.
The Salvation Army of Coastal Alabama is currently housing 91 residents throughout their 3 shelters, all of which are now operating 24/7. Cleaning has increased throughout the shelters due to the extended hours. There aren’t any residents with COVID-19, but if a resident shows signs of the virus they will be isolated in a separate living space and taken to the nearest hospital for proper screening.
COVID-19 has drastically increased The Salvation Army’s community feedings and other services in Mobile. The Army is now serving lunch three times a week in downtown Mobile—stepping up to fill the gap left after other area service organizations had to close during the pandemic. An average of 170 meals per day are being served at this location, with projections that this number will increase in the days ahead. The Mobile Police and Fire Departments have asked The Salvation Army to supply meals to public safety officials that are quarantined with suspicion of COVID-19 symptoms.
Church activities at the Worship Center and the Dauphin Way Lodge have been postponed. Group rehabilitation meetings have been divided into smaller groups and take place outside in the courtyard. Visitors are restricted from entering the building, and community meals are distributed outside. The food pantry has had to adjust the hours and methods of distributing food to mitigate unnecessary exposure to clients and staff.
“We will make it through this together not by doing what is comfortable, but by doing what is necessary,” stated Coastal Alabama Area Commander, Major Thomas Richmond.
The Salvation Army of Tuscaloosa’s shelter, which has separate wings to accommodate men, women, families, and veterans, is currently near capacity. Round-the-clock sheltering means that The Salvation Army is now providing lunch, an additional meal, for its residents due to the mandate hours.
“We are extending our shelter to 24/7 operation because it is the only home our residents currently have, and we’re committed to keeping them safe and well provided for. We are also providing all of our normal essential services— including meals, food boxes, Rapid Rehousing, and Homeless Prevention—we’re just altering our methods of service delivery to practice safe social distancing,” stated Tuscaloosa Corps Officer, Major Bill Shafer.
The above is just a sampling, but all Salvation Army shelters throughout Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi are now operating 24-hours a day, 7-days a week. Every one of these shelters is in immediate need of extra food and cleaning supplies to meet the increased demand, but their biggest need is financial. The Salvation Army needs a great outpouring of public support to continue to serve the increased need throughout our communities. To support The Salvation Army’s COVID-19 response efforts, please give now.