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Birmingham Woman Left At Salvation Army As An Infant Returns As Adult to Escape Domestic Violence

Dominique and her three children came to The Salvation Army Birmingham Area Command in 2018 to seek refuge from a verbally and physically abusive relationship with an ex-boyfriend. Because she had witnessed her mother being killed by her stepfather early in life, Dominique knew she had to do something to prevent repeating the cycle. Determined to keep her kids safe, she formed a plan to start a new life.

“Believe it or not, some of the best sleep I’ve ever had was at The Salvation Army. I had peace.”

Dominique and her children were living with her father, stepmother, and sister when an altercation occurred between herself and her youngest son’s father. When presented with the chance to leave, she took it. Dominique found out about the women’s Center of Hope shelter at the Salvation Army in Birmingham. She and her children moved in and began preparing for their new lifestyles.

“Being in a shelter was different. My kids didn’t know what to expect; I didn’t know what to expect,” Dominique stated. “Believe it or not, some of the best sleep I’ve ever had was at The Salvation Army. I had peace,” she added.

Dominique stayed at the Center of Hope for four months before finding permanent housing. During that time, she joined The Salvation Army’s Education and Workplace Development program. The program helps individuals sustain employment through job readiness as well as life and educational training.

“My teacher was constructive. She had us write down our goals. My goal was to go back to school for real estate, and that’s what I did. I had help along the way, and whatever I asked for to better myself, The Salvation Army helped me. They offered assistance with school, my children, and extracurricular,” Dominique shared.

“It took me longer to finish the program because of being in and out of court concerning my domestic abuse case, but my counselors were patient and encouraged me. Kudos to my caseworkers. They tag teamed and helped me get everything I needed with going back to school. They were there for me all the way,” Dominique added.

“To come back with my kids I was like, ‘Wait a minute.’ It’s crazy how things circle back around.”

Headshot of Dominique

Dominique was able to realize her dream and obtain her Real Estate license in 2020. However, as soon as she began to build her client base to start a new career, the COVID-19 pandemic put everything on hold. Even with two jobs, she struggled to pay her rent. Thankfully, she was eligible for The Salvation Army’s COVID-19 financial assistance program, which has helped pay her rent and utilities throughout the pandemic.

“It’s been a big adjustment, being a mother of three during the pandemic. My middle son started having more behavioral problems, and we’ve been going to the doctor and therapy all year. He was diagnosed with ADHD, and learning this during the pandemic is tough,” Dominique shared.

Having to turn to The Salvation Army for assistance again, Dominique reflected on previous times when The Salvation Army helped her. Staying at the Center of Hope in 2018 wasn’t her first encounter with the Army. Her mother abandoned her at The Salvation Army when she was an infant. Dominique was entered into the foster care system where her grandfather was able to locate and adopt her.

“To come back with my kids I was like, ‘Wait a minute.’ It’s crazy how things circle back around,” Dominique stated.

“I just want to give God full credit because He’s the one who did everything for me and turned my whole life around. I didn’t do anything. There’s nobody but God who has brought me through this,” Dominique added.

The Salvation Army Helping Neighbors In Need During COVID-19 Throughout Alabama

The Salvation Army has been there for our neighbors in need throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Here are a few memorable events from Alabama Corps.

 

Coastal, AL

Ms. Casey M., a single mother of two teenage girls, was working as an event planner at a local country club. Her hours were severely cut due to the pandemic, and she had difficulty getting unemployment benefits. She was unable to pay her rent and needed help until government assistance kicked in. The Salvation Army of Coastal Alabama Area Command received funds from several local foundations for rent and utilities. The Salvation Army helped her with rent payments to keep current. She was so grateful that she reached out to her social worker and send an email saying, “Thank you so much for your help through all of this. This has been a dark time in my life, but you have been a shining ray of hope! Our community is blessed to have someone so devoted to its citizens and to our Lord!

Dothan, AL

The Salvation Army of Dothan received a call from a single working mother of three, requesting rental assistance. She explained that she was working the dayshift at the prison, which worked perfectly with her children’s school day and enabled her to not have childcare. Her hours were cut and changed to a 3 pm-12 am night shift when the pandemic began. She was forced to resign her position as she could not pay her bills or childcare with the reduced hours, and her new schedule would interfere with her children’s school schedule. A United Way Covid-19 grant was able to provide rental assistance for the mother. Her landlord had communicated with The Salvation Army that this was the first time she had ever had an issue paying rent or late notice.

Throughout the rental assistance process, this client was active in looking for employment. She has shared that the rental assistance she received through our program allowed her to keep her household together. She reports that she is currently employed, and the family is working hard to get back on their feet.

Florence, AL

While The Salvation Army of Florence was able to assist many individuals and families during the Covid-19 crisis, with many services ranging from financial assistance and food provision, one instance stands out above the rest. Thomas and Brenda, along with their 18-month-old daughter, all contracted the virus around the same time. As you can imagine, this has been very strenuous for the entire family as sickness had been intense, and the financial impact was significant. Amid their struggle, The Salvation Army provided them with daily meals through our Community Care Ministries and provided other personal and comfort items as they pressed through. The family is on the mend, and financial stability will be restored. The services provided daily free up their funds to be used for other financial needs.

Decatur, AL

Sarah Jones, a client in The Salvation Army of Decatur food pantry, has gone through a long and arduous journey over the past year. She and her husband had some severe addiction issues that needed to be addressed and treated. The Decatur Corps was able to advise them on some local treatment options in a community outpatient capacity. Their children were placed in foster care by the Department of Human Resources of Lawrence County and had a safety plan, which they needed to follow.

Throughout the process, Mr. & Mrs. Jones maintained a positive outlook through spiritual and medical guidance, leading them to become better parents and better people. The Salvation Army of Decatur ensured all their most basic human needs were met through the food and clothing assistance provided. Many clients that come into the food pantry for assistance are experiencing a short-term emergency need. However, there is an opportunity to provide guidance and direction to those who ask for help.

The Decaur Corps kept up with the ongoing treatment schedule and progress with Mr. & Mrs. Jones and liaised with the Department of Human Resources whenever information was requested. They completed their treatment program and satisfied all the requirements of the safety plan. Supervised visitation was the first step for them, but eventually, they regained custody of their children. The Salvation Army was able to assist them with food, clothing, household essentials, and assorted kitchen necessities for their new home, and their outlook on the future is significantly improved.

Montgomery, AL

During the COVID pandemic, when people were getting laid off from work, The Salvation Army of Montgomery helped one of our male residents establish a new career in inpatient care in a local senior living facility. Officers taught him about saving money and operating his life on a budget. The Montgomery Corps was able to partner with a couple of local agencies to get the client a fully furnished three-bedroom house and assist him with purchasing his own vehicle to cut back on transportation expenses. The client reports that he is still working on the job now and doing well.

Walker County Partners With Police Officers to Deliver Meals to Seniors

One of the most considerable impacts made by the Walker County Service Center is the Senior Feeding Program. The program started in 2019, and services have amplified due to COVID-19. Volunteers and staff deliver groceries to between 250-300 seniors every week, with a high of 400 one week. Groceries are taken to the homes of seniors who cannot grocery shop for themselves due to illness, lack of transportation, or lack of money. The program caters to those aged 60 and above, with $600 or less a month.

“When we do this, I’m cautious about what I purchase for those bags of groceries because these seniors have no transportation. They don’t have a family who is active in their lives, so they don’t have someone to take them to the store,” stated Cynthia Smith, Walker County Social Services Director.

“They’re at a high risk to complications from COVID-19 because of underlying health conditions or old age, so we try to pack complete meals. If we supply a box of hamburger helper, we’re also going to be sure to supply the meat and milk to go with it,” Smith added.

The Walker County Service Center also works with a produce truck that comes on Thursday mornings at 6 AM to collect produce boxes, which typically contain milk, eggs, cheese, potatoes, and onions. Grocery bags are packed according to the supplies received from produce boxes. Reusable face masks are also placed in the boxes every few months to replace old or torn masks. Personal hygiene products, toilet paper, and other cleaning supplies are also included in the delivery.

The service center also partners with the Walker County District Attorney’s Office for senior meal delivery for seniors under mandatory isolation and quarantine. The Salvation Army provides and packs the groceries, and police officers will deliver them to seniors who cannot leave their homes.

“If they need sugar, it’s in there. If they need flour, it’s in there. We make sure to pack whatever they may need,” Smith stated.

“When we take groceries, we knock on the door to let them know that we’ve delivered the groceries and step away. We know them so well now that sometimes we exchange air hugs or they’ll blow kisses. Sometimes they cry. One woman cried because it had been years since she’d last seen peanut butter,” Smith added.

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.

 

The Road to Recovery: Overcoming Prescription Drug Addiction

David began using prescription drugs in 2009 after knee surgery and soon became addicted to his medication. Realizing his addiction was spiraling out of control, David sought help at a drug rehabilitation center in Madison, Alabama. He did well after leaving rehab but relapsed six months later when he lost his job. His wife became pregnant around the same time, causing added financial stress.

David kept his relapse under control as much as he could until it finally overpowered him in 2014. He was unstable, frequently changing jobs and living out of a motel. He became fed up with his situation and attempted to overcome his addiction on his own. After three months of sobriety, David checked into the Salvation Army Center of Hope Homeless Shelter in Florence, Alabama.

He also joined the City of Florence recycling program to pay off prior warrants but wanted a way of earning money to begin saving for his new life journey.

“I wanted to begin working so that I could start saving for a place of my own. I went to a temp service and got a job that same day. My judge saw that I was trying to better myself, so he cut the fines on my warrants so that I could reduce my time recycling and spend more time working to save money,” David shared.

Although David was now working full-time to create a better life for himself and his kids, old financial habits stuck. He often spent his paychecks irresponsibly, but his caseworker offered advice and helped David become more financially responsible. The Coronavirus pandemic began, and self-isolation was mandatory. Limited access to the outside world also helped David stay focused on his goals if overcoming drug addiction and saving money to become financially independent.

“My social worker has helped me to get my first apartment. The Salvation Army has allowed me to reconnect with my boys and has given me the patience to wait and find the right things instead of jumping first,” David shared.

“Everyday someone was encouraging me. I’ve been to other rehab facilities and felt like I was just a number, but here someone asks how I’m doing every day,” David added.

“You could tell that there was something different about David. He was ready for someone to help him.”

David is currently in transitional housing and is saving to find a home. He’s now able to visit his sons every weekend, and his eldest son has moved in with him. Having this opportunity has helped with reunifying his relationship with all three sons.

“Since David has come, he has been such a big help. Everyone has chores to do. He takes the initiative to help around the Corps and is a great leader. He’s even helped other residents with their chores. David may feel that we have been a blessing to him, but he has been a blessing to us. He’s a really good guy and a go-getter. I saw it from the beginning. You could tell that there was something different about David. He was ready for someone to help him. He just needed some guidance,” shared Captain Wendy Deuel, The Salvation Army of Florence Corps Officer.

“He came at the right time. We may think of COVID-19 as something horrible, but God made this an opportunity for David to get on the right track. It gave him the time he needed to better himself and focus on himself. We have to learn to look at things the way God may look at them. COVID-19 may not be a good thing, but it was a good thing for David. I praise God for the storm. Through COVID-19, David was able to get his kids back. I can’t wait to see what else God has planned for him,” Captain Wendy Deuel added.

David is sober for the first time in five years. This October marks a year of him being drug-free.

Florence Corps Partners With City to Protect the Vulnerable During Covid-19

The Salvation Army’s Center of Hope is the only homeless shelter in Alabama’s Shoals area that has its own facility. Room at the Inn, the only other program in the area that provides shelter for the homeless, has temporarily postponed operations during the COVID-19 pandemic due to most of its volunteers being senior citizens, a high-risk population. This has resulted in numerous homeless individuals being left with nowhere to go, so the program organized for Veterans Memorial Park to be the designated location for the homeless to reside. A more permanent arrangement would be needed soon, so the City of Florence and the Homeless Care Council asked The Salvation Army to help.

Fortunately, twelve residents of the Army found permanent housing in March, creating space for incoming residents. The Salvation Army welcomed the homeless community from Veterans Memorial Park onto their property to give them a home during these uncertain times. Residents who may feel uncomfortable sleeping inside due to the virus have set up camp in the facility’s backyard. Those who choose to camp outside still have access to the facility’s amenities, such as laundry, showers, and meals. Portable toilets have also been installed for their convenience.

These circumstances have brought Florence together as a community. The city has provided portable toilets and picnic tables to assist with social distancing and the increase in residents. Area restaurants, businesses, and organizations have provided tents, tarps, blankets, toiletries, games, and food to assist with the new living arrangements. Hospital workers also came to the shelter to provide COVID-19 testing to all current and incoming residents to ensure everyone’s safety.

“We have a lot of land, so why not turn it into a home for someone who doesn’t have one? Now they have a place to go where they are welcomed and comfortable,” stated Shoals Corps Officer Captain Wendy Deuel.

“The residents are excited. Someone came to me and told me that they finally feel like they have a home, and that brought me so much joy. I’ve told residents that The Center of Hope brings new hope and a new beginning for them,” added Captain Deuel.

Living at The Salvation Army during this pandemic is a second chance for residents, many of whom hadn’t had showers in months before coming to the shelter. Residents attend daily rehabilitation and case management classes, where they are encouraged to discuss their lives and personal goals. Residents are also able to play sports and other games in small groups.

“The community has been a huge help. It has been a blessing to be able to work with other churches and organizations. We appreciate their help during this process,” stated Captain Deuel.


Financial donations are the best way to meet the evolving needs and to support relief efforts. To support The Salvation Army’s COVID-19 response efforts, please give now.

The Salvation Army’s Response to Alabama’s Stay at Home Order

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.

Birmingham

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.”

Florence

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.

Coastal Alabama

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.

Tuscaloosa

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.

Mobile Takes Canteen into the Community to Fill the Gap

The Salvation Army of Coastal Alabama has created a new feeding program to assist at-risk community members who have been impacted by the coronavirus.  Other social service organizations have closed throughout the area due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Army is stepping up to serve residents who relied on those organizations.

The Salvation Army’s mobile feeding canteen began distributing water and bagged lunches in downtown Mobile at the Square at Dauphin Street and Park Street this week. The Army was able to provide a meal and prayer for 170 members of the community. The canteen will provide meals at this location every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 12:00 – 1:00 p.m.

“Many people came to our canteen and told us that they thought they had been forgotten during this crisis. We assured them that we had not forgotten them, but more importantly, God had not forgotten them. The Salvation Army has served the needs of people in Mobile and Baldwin Counties since 1887 and will continue to be here with God’s help,” stated Coastal Alabama Area Commander, Major Thomas Richmond.

This new community feeding program is in addition to services already provided by The Salvation Army of Coastal Alabama, including supplied food, shelter and social services at the three shelter locations—the Family Haven family shelter, the Red Shield Lodge emergency homeless shelter, and the Dauphin Way Lodge drug & alcohol rehabilitation center, as well as financial assistance and an array of other services through their social services office.

To help The Salvation Army continue to serve those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, make your secure online donation today.

Feeding Kids In Anniston During COVID-19 School Closures

The Salvation Army of Anniston has collaborated with Anniston City Schools, The Boys and Girls Club, local community centers, and local churches to feed children throughout the community while schools are closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Breakfast and lunch were provided throughout the Anniston community Wednesday, March 18th through Friday, March 20th, and services will resume after spring break, starting Monday, March 30th through Friday, April 3rd, from 10 am -12 pm.

Russell family and Lt. Graham “It’s been beneficial having The Salvation Army out in the community, providing food and snacks for my babies. Lieutenant Jennifer Graham visited my home. We sat and talked,” stated Monique Russell, Anniston mother of six.

The Salvation Army will meet at Anniston Middle School at 7:30 am each day to pack grab-n-go style breakfast and lunch to take into the community and distribute to kids. Volunteers are needed to assist with packing meals beginning March 30th.

“It has been a life-changing experience in preparing for what we are now calling a pandemic. Even in these moments, we all need to slow down and take care of one another. Taking care of children is one of the many priorities of The Salvation Army, so we are happy to be involved with the Anniston community,” stated Lieutenant Jennifer Graham, The Salvation Army of Anniston Corps Officer.

Any child K-12 may receive a free pre-packaged breakfast and lunch. No proof of residence is required, so any child from anywhere may participate. An adult or older sibling may pick up breakfast and lunch, but one child must be present.

Doing The Most Good With Melanie Cook

We can all do the most good in our everyday lives, whether it be helping an older neighbor with their yard work, recycling, or paying for coffee for the next person in line. There’s always a way to show God’s grace through your day-to-day deeds, but for some, doing the most good is their calling.

“It wasn’t my idea. It was His. The Lord has led me here,” is Melanie Cook’s response to dedicating so much of her time and energy to helping those in need.

Cook is a fulltime volunteer at The Salvation Army in Florence, Alabama, where she organizes the food pantry, cooks, and serves meals to residents. She’s also responsible for bringing in her fellow members of Highland Baptist Church to join in volunteer efforts at The Salvation Army.

The Lord Spoke To Me

Cook says the Lord spoke to her about being more involved in charity work through her Bible readings. She wasn’t sure how to get started and began working with a local ministry that prepared weekly meals for the homeless. She met a couple in that ministry who introduced her to The Salvation Army. Cook saw how in need the shelter was and recruited other members from her church to assist. Word spread, and volunteering at The Salvation Army is now a church-wide service at Highland Baptist Church.

When asked to share her experience working with Cook, Christine Onocki, The Salvation Army Florence Corps Volunteer Coordinator, said, “My words are not adequate to express the gratitude in my heart for Melanie’s volunteer participation with us. She has such a beautiful spirit. She recognizes a need and jumps into action, organizing groups to fill the need or fill in the gaps. We are blessed to have her and her fellow church members. The phrase “With a heart for God and a hand to man” would describe this wonderful woman. We are very thankful.”

Fulfilling A Calling

Among all the other good they do, Cook’s ministry took it upon themselves to assist when the shelter was in desperate need of new bedding. The shelter received a large donation of bedspreads from one of the local hotels. Though the offer was generous and appreciated, most of the comforters were queen and king-sized, much too large for the twin-sized beds that most shelters provide. Shelters wash their bedding frequently, and the large size of the donated bedding would cause wear and tear on the machines, so Cook and three other women from her church decided to use their sewing skills to cut and hem the material, making two covers out of one. This act was much appreciated and helped make the bedding supplies at the shelter more efficient and easier to handle for both staff and residents.

In addition to loving what she does, Cook enjoys interacting with the people she serves. To Cook, volunteering isn’t just about the service provided. It’s also about making personal connections and showing people who may not currently have a source of companionship that there are people who care about them. She has found that volunteering sometimes works as a personal kind of witnessing ministry. People share their feelings and thoughts with her, which allows her to share their stories and assist others with making much needed societal changes.

“I don’t know if volunteers from my church have the same calling, but knowing the Lord gave me this duty leaves me with a strong sense of satisfaction each day,” Cook declared. “It’s a blessing to be able to talk to people and let them know that I’m just like them. We have different problems, but we all have problems. I can share with them how the Lord has worked in my life and encourage them that He can do the same for them. I remind them that this is just a temporary situation and that He’s there for them,” Cook added.

Volunteering Will Change Your Perspective

People have approached Cook on the street, asking for food and money. She informs them that they never have to go hungry because The Salvation Army serves meals every day. She also wants people in shelters to know that she doesn’t feel like they are different from her. She wants to offer encouragement about God and overcoming hardships, so she often sits and prays with people concerning finding a job, a place to live, and reuniting with their families.

“Homelessness has separated so many families. We don’t always get a happy ending with those, but sometimes we do. I try to share those happy endings with my Sunday school class. You know, ‘So-and-so moved out of The Salvation Army and into their apartment this week.’ or “So-and-so whose child was taken away by DHR is getting their baby back.’ The Salvation Army has played such a massive part in people’s lives,” Cook said.

Cook would like to see more people get involved. She often encounters lonely people at the shelter who feel that their lives have little meaning. She believes that if more people would share their time by volunteering at The Salvation Army, their perspectives on life will change, and they’ll realize they are more abundant and more blessed than they think.

Cook emphasizes the importance of sharing your time with others by adding, “Volunteering and witnessing these miracles has given me a boldness to share my faith. God is so good to us, and there’s a lot that we can do to change the world. One person at a time. Volunteer.”

Contact your local Salvation Army to learn how you can contribute.

Transition to Long-Term Recovery After Alabama Tornado Outbreak

Annabelle Tsui

Lee County, Alabama (March 25, 2019)— The Salvation Army’s emergency response to the Lee County tornado outbreak of March 3, 2019, has transitioned to the long-term recovery phase. After serving from day one of the tornado outbreak—providing food, hydration, and emotional and spiritual care to tornado survivors, first responders, and volunteers—The Salvation Army is continuing to serve affected residents through partnerships with local emergency management and the Lee County Long-Term Coalition.

The Coalition meets to identify unmet needs and determine how the resources of volunteer agencies can be best utilized to meet the continued or on-going needs of the affected communities. Thus far, The Salvation Army has participated and contributed to the recovery by ensuring that survivors have food, household goods and hygiene items.  “In partnership with other community organizations, we will continue receiving tornado survivors to address their needs,” said Annabelle Tsui, Salvation Army Lee County Service Center Director. “It is truly blessing to witness wounded hearts and communities being mended through the volunteer efforts of The Salvation Army and many other partner organizations,” she continued.

To donate to The Salvation Army’s tornado relief efforts, go to helpsalvationarmy.org.

President Trump Visits Tornado Ravaged Lee County & The Salvation Army Continues to Serve

Beauregard, AL (March 8, 2019)— President Trump toured the tornado ravaged Beauregard community on Friday, and The Salvation Army was on hand, ready to serve survivors, volunteers, and work crews. The level of security required for a presidential visit meant that the highly secured disaster area was locked down tight until the president concluded his visit, but The Salvation Army was on the scene—ready and eager to get back into the area and back to helping the people.

As soon as the area was cleared for those granted access there, which still isn’t open to the general public, The Salvation Army canteen (mobile feeding unit) was in high gear, grilling hamburgers, hotdogs, and chicken for the people doing the massive ongoing cleanup effort. “Some of the people that we served said that it was just what they needed. That it was a godsend because God knows exactly what to send at the right time. We were there to fill that need,” said Lieutenant Bryan Farrington, who was working at the canteen as soon as people were allowed back into the area.

“I think it’s wonderful because I thought I was about to starve to death,” said Eric Bush, who took a break to eat a burger from the canteen. Eric is volunteering to help a friend, using his tractor to remove limbs from what’s left of his friend’s home. “It is awesome to see the presence of The Salvation Army helping feed people, and everybody just here to work, to try to pitch in and make a difference. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing—if you’re cooking hamburgers or moving limbs or picking up trash—it takes everybody,” Eric added.

As the weekend approaches, with Sunday marking one week since lives in this community were changed forever, emotional and spiritual care was again the greatest need. “It was good to be able to love on the people who were most affected by the storm and to hear their stories. To be able to share God’s love, to help them smile for a minute, to relieve some of the stress and strain. Words can’t describe what you actually see there, but it’s very rewarding to have an impact, to brighten their day for a moment and encourage somebody while they’re going through the midst of their trials,” said Lt. Farrington.

“This may seem impossible, but through faith it is possible. Through faith all things are possible,” said Napoleon Darby, resident of the hardest-hit area of Lee County. Napoleon’s home is destroyed. His is a tight-knit community with mostly family members as neighbors, and some members of his family didn’t survive the storm. There‘s a distinct heaviness in the air, and you can hear the deep pain in his quiet voice, but he refuses to let himself sink into despair. He’s choosing to focus on the good. Napoleon met President Trump on his tour of the area Friday, and it left a positive impression on him. “I shook his hand and talked to him, shook his wife’s hand,” Napoleon said.

Of his visit with Salvation Army officers on the same day he met the president, Napoleon says, “This is a testament that there are lots of nice people that care about people in the world. It’s easy to concentrate on the hate in the world but when you get exposed to the love in the world you have to lean more towards that.”