The Salvation Army has been there for our neighbors in need throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Here are a few highlights from Mississippi Corps.
A disproportionate number of lower-income Mississippians have been impacted by COVID-19. The Salvation Army Jackson has canceled all community programs in their facilities, with the desire to keep their community safe and to follow CDC recommendations. However, they are delivering boxes of food and supplies to the homes of 70 seniors who have come to rely on hot, nutritious meals at their facilities. The Corps social worker also checks in with the seniors on a regular basis and holds Sunday school via telephone a few times a month so that seniors are able to keep in touch with one another and maintain a sense of community with The Salvation Army.
No story sticks more than any other except serving the 425+ who came to The Salvation Army of Hattiesburg every Thursday this summer during for Food Distribution day. This day was made possible with the help of the Farmers to Families program and E&B Grocery in Hattiesburg. Through this program, clients received meat, vegetable, and dairy boxes from E&B Grocery. Donations have included bags of potatoes, onions, milk, Lunchables, tortillas, bleach, and several other things. This program would not be possible without the help of the incredible Hattiesburg community partners.
A client was laid off from work at the daycare because of the COVID-19 restrictions. The daycare closed and has not yet re-opened. The client looked for a new job for four months without any luck. In May, The Salvation Army of Vicksburg was able to help with her electric bill. In July, she returned for assistance with her water bill. Her water had been shut off for a few weeks, and she was making due. The Vicksburg Corps supplied her with drinking water and spoke with the water company about paying the bill. An agreement was made so that the water would be turned back on the very day the Salvation Army paid the bill. There was a delay in writing the check, and it wasn’t ready until Friday. Since we wanted her water turned on as soon as possible, the corps officer hand-delivered the water bill, so her water was turned on before the weekend.
A young lady with four children was just laid off from work and just had a house fire that took all she had. We gave her a clothing voucher so she could have clothes for herself and her children. The Salvation Army of Greenwood agreed to furnish her new home once ararngements were made. Since the Greenwood Corps doesn’t have a shelter, corps officers supplied the young woman with a week’s stay in a hotel and helped her make arrangements to stay in a nearby local shelter. We ended our time together with a word of prayer. We are hoping that she would be willing to participate in our pathway of hope program ministry.
One of the most considerable impacts made by The Salvation Army Walker County Service Center is its 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.
The pandemic has been hard on many. Grocery delivery service needs have increased tremendously for The Salvation Army of Meridian, averaging at serving 100 people through the drive-thru food pantry a week. Although fighting the good fight can weigh heavy on officers and volunteers, there are always small miracles that serve as a reminder for why we do what we do here at The Salvation Army.
A woman came by the Meridian Corps Social Services to pick up a produce/pastry box. She came back to the door sobbing, explaining that her son’s birthday was the coming weekend and she didn’t know what she was going to do. Miraculously, the only birthday cake that the Army had was inside the box she received.
“I didn’t know her need, but the Holy Spirit did! God blessed her and my heart that day,” The Salvation Army of Meridian Corps Officer, Lieutenant Tamara Robb, shared.
“It’s always such a blessing to see how the Holy Spirit works,” Lieutenant Robb added.
Treshone Collor, Director of Social Services for The Salvation Army of Greater New Orleans, recently secured permanent housing for 12 families—having a total of 39 children between them—while she was fighting her own battle with the coronavirus.
Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, The Salvation Army New Orleans Area Command has been doing its part to make sure all residents and staff are safe and secure. Staff members continue their day-to-day operations, making sure vulnerable populations receive meals and finding homes for families. Working in a state with the most rapid spread of the virus has been challenging, but The Salvation Army’s dedicated staff continue doing their part to serve the New Orleans community.
Collor found out she was COVID-19 positive on April 9th, while already working from home in self-isolation due to the Louisiana Stay at Home order.
“I took my multivitamins, took medicine, continued doing anything that I regularly do, but went to get tested to be sure. I wasn’t showing symptoms when I tested but started developing flu symptoms as time went on. I had a fever, back pains, migraines, and restless sleep. It was challenging and scary,” Collor shared.
Collor has a son with sickle cell anemia. “I’ve been in mommy mode to keep his immune system up. Making sure he didn’t contract the virus was my biggest concern,” she added.
Despite dealing with her health, Collor was still concerned about the 12 families who needed a permanent home.
“My goal was to get those residents out of the shelter. I knew they were there and had limited access to things because of social distancing. We had 39 children at the shelter, so I knew it could become a trying situation. I had to keep moving,” Collor stated.
Collor succeeded in getting all of the families out of the shelter and into permanent housing. She also housed eight additional families who lived in other shelters throughout New Orleans who received services from the Army.
It’s easy to spiral into fear, but Collor stays motivated by reassuring herself that success will continue despite this pandemic. “People keep telling me I was born to work in social services, and I tell them I’ll take note of that,” said Collor.
“I am amazed at the dedication Treshone Collor has shown during the COVID-19 outbreak. She was forced to self-quarantine early after the Stay at Home order took place here in New Orleans. Well done, good and faithful servant. Well done,” said New Orleans Area Commander, Major Ernest Hull, about Collor’s dedication to serving others.
“My faith and positive mindset helped me to keep going. Providing services for those who need help was a drive for me to continue even though I was dealing with a personal illness. I still wanted to help. I still wanted to be dedicated to the individuals here. There were many days when I couldn’t do anything but stay in bed and rest. Those were trying days. This whole process has been trying and very memorable. I think I’ll carry on this conversation for many years to come,” Collor added.
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.
by Jon Kalahar
Raising a child on your own is hard enough. Imagine you’re 20 years old. Sometimes you need a little motivation or, in Rene Hill’s case, a push. After signing up for assistance with the state, she was sent to The Salvation Army of Columbus, Mississippi. That’s where she met Lieutenants Damon and Jennifer Graham.
Lieutenant Jennifer has become Rene’s motivator.
“She’s not forcing me, but she is strongly on me to go to college,” Hill said.
As officers of The Salvation Army, the Grahams see the hardships local residents face after losing their jobs, overcoming addictions, or even trying to piece life back together following jail time. That’s why they are working with the United Way and the Mississippi Department of Human Services to give young adults a boost to get ahead in life through the I.T.T. (In This Together) program.
“We hear a need and see a place where we can help in a person’s life, if they allow it,” Lieutenant Damon said.
“Many of these single mothers grew up in single-parent households,” said Lieutenant Jennifer. “They need that extra motivation to overcome the generational cycle of poverty. There are a lot of barriers in their way, from lack of family support to limited education to their lack of self-worth.”
The program was started to show young men and women their value and worth in the community while working in a supportive, Christian environment. The goal is for each person who works through the program to become self-sufficient, not another statistic.
“Receiving assistance from the state is a temporary tool,” Lieutenant Jennifer said. “We are challenging them to dream beyond a temporary fix. This is their first stop, followed hopefully by college or technical training.”
Cherrell Murray, like Hill, has found a new outlook on her future since starting at The Salvation Army.
“It teaches me to love people, care for people,” Murray said.
Now Salvation Army volunteers, both Hill and Murray perform administrative duties while also stocking the food pantry and preparing groceries for people in need. They will soon take a placement exam to find entry level professions suited for their skills. From there, they will begin college level classes. Both women hope to follow in their mentors’ footsteps and become social workers.
“Basically, they both just encourage us to follow our dreams, try to keep on the right path, go to college. They inspire us a lot to make us want to do more,” Hill said.
Jon Kalahar is the Communications Director for the Alabama-Louisiana-Mississippi Division.