On Sunday, March 22, 2020, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards announced an official Stay at Home order for the entire state of Louisiana due to the rapid spread of the COVID-19 virus throughout the state. The order took effect on Monday, March 23 and is in place until the morning of Monday, April 13, when local schools are scheduled to re-open. This mandate affects The Salvation Army throughout Louisiana in many ways, most notably in shelter operations. All seven of The Salvation Army’s shelters throughout the state are now housing residents 24/7. Shelters that usually serve only breakfast and dinner will now be 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 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.
Louisiana’s Stay at Home order is also resulting in the temporary closure of all Salvation Army thrift stores in the state.
The Salvation Army New Orleans Area Command is sheltering 96 residents and providing three meals a day, plus activities to help alleviate boredom for its residents. Major Ernest Hull, New Orleans Salvation Army Area Commander, says that while 96 isn’t max-capacity for the shelter, they are limiting acceptance to the current residents for social distancing purposes. Many of these shelter residents are young children, and Major Hull is making sure to keep them entertained as well as safe—with “drive-in” movie nights and more.
“We’re trying to give them activities and the residents are good about constantly cleaning and disinfecting their dorms,” said Major Hull. Majors Ernest and Debra Hull are also currently living in the shelter to help provide for the residents’ needs during this unprecedented time.
In addition to taking care of their shelter population, The Salvation Army New Orleans Area Command has also been requested by the state to help feed the unsheltered homeless population in the area. “While this is not your typical disaster setting, The Salvation Army is going to rise to the cause and meet the human needs of our communities to the best of our abilities. We have never retreated before and we’re not going to retreat now,” said Major Hull.
The Salvation Army of Baton Rouge has temporarily closed its thrift store and social services office due to the state-wide Stay at Home order. The Corps’ youth programs—the School for Performing Arts and character-building programs—have briefly stopped at this time to practice social distancing. The Men’s Recovery Program, which houses program participants, will continue with its regular schedule.
The shelter has limited its acceptance to 50 residents and is currently at capacity. Following city protocol, the shelter will keep an eye open for people showing signs of the virus. Shelter residents and staff are encouraged to wash hands frequently and to practice social distancing.
In addition to increased shelter operations, the Baton Rouge Salvation Army is also providing food to school-aged children and their families throughout the area. Nearly 150 grab-and-go lunches are provided to families Monday, Wednesday, and Friday throughout Baton Rouge.
“We’re here. The Salvation Army has been serving Baton Rouge for 115 years, and it’s not going to change. In times of difficulty, we stick to our mission of preaching the gospel of Jesus and to help people in his name without discrimination. We are working every day to take care of the needs of our community,” stated Major Donald Tekautz, Salvation Army Baton Rouge Corps Officer.
The Salvation Army of Alexandria includes both a veterans shelter and a general shelter, with both remaining open 24/7 for the duration of the statewide Stay at Home order. Both thrift stores are temporarily closed at this time.
The Alexandria Corps is currently providing dine-in breakfast, lunch, and dinner for all residents. Feedings take place in shifts, with only two individuals seated at a six-foot table and cleanings taking place between each shift.
Breakfast is provided daily to the community and served outside of the shelters. An anonymous donor has purchased 85 kolaches twice a week for the next two months that are being distributed each morning along with a piece of fruit and a cold beverage. The Alexandria Corps is working towards bagging all breakfasts and dinners for transient residents and the general public. Hot meals are provided in shifts, but the shelter does not have the staff and financial resources for sandwiches and lunchmeats.
“In Alexandria, we meet daily as a staff to discuss the continually evolving conditions regarding COVID-19. We are practicing social distancing in every aspect of operations,” stated Alexandria Corps Officer Major Richard Watts.
With the new guidelines of the Stay at Home order, the shelter is encouraging residents to stay indoors. Furniture has been rearranged to practice social distancing, and staff is working toward feeding the public and residents outside of the building via the canteen and outdoor tables.
The Salvation Army of Monroe’s shelter, which houses men and women, is currently at capacity with 50 residents. Due to the new mandate, the shelter is now operating 24 hours a day, serving lunch in addition to the breakfast and dinner normally provided. In addition to the cost of supplying enough food to meet the demand for round-the-clock shelter operations, purchasing food is challenging right now because of market shortages. Shelter staff members are making daily trips to grocery stores, but markets are either low on supplies or will not allow bulk purchases. The shelter has only about four day’s worth of meals left at this time. The Monroe Corps’ thrift store also had to shut down because of the Stay at Home order.
“We are now at full capacity and in desperate need of food to sustain our residents. We also need additional funding because more staff is needed to assist with running the shelter 24/7,” stated Captain Jerry Casey, Monroe Corps Officer.
The above is just a sampling, but all Salvation Army shelters throughout the state of Louisiana are operating 24-hours a day, 7-days a week for the duration of the state’s Stay at Home order. 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 in Louisiana. To support The Salvation Army’s COVID-19 response efforts, please give now.