Southern Corps Help Communities Beat the Heat
By: David Ibata
When summer days turn sultry and hot, Frederick Holland of Chattanooga, Tennessee, appreciates the work of The Salvation Army.
“On hot days, we come here,” said Holland, 55, a longtime volunteer at the 614 Corps at 800 McCallie Ave., serving Chattanooga’s homeless community. “They love us as a family; they give us plenty of water to drink, watch some movies, listen to music. … When it’s really hot, people come here to the cool, to get cold water and a blessing from the church.”
Salvation Army commands and corps across the Southern Territory try to beat the heat – and the beat down it gives to people – by opening their buildings as cooling centers, dispatching mobile canteens to pass out bottles of chilled water, and distributing electric fans to vulnerable households without air conditioning. Some corps have even started giving away air conditioners.
Heat-related stress might not get the attention of other natural disasters, but it’s a killer. More than 600 people die from heat-related illnesses every year in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Infants and young children, low-income households, people with chronic medical conditions and adults 65 years of age and older are the most vulnerable.
Giving people relief “is very important,” said Lieutenant James Harvin, 614 corps commander. “One of the main concerns for the homeless is they can’t escape the blistering heat outside. You couldn’t imagine how many cups of water, gallons of water, we go through in a day.”
There’s a “hydration station” outside with free chilled water, and the ReCreate Café inside, a coffee shop
that’s the hub of the corps’ day shelter; here, people can get a bite to eat in air-conditioned comfort most hours of the morning and afternoon.
One of the biggest, annual electric fan drives in the country involves the Army partnering with Westlake Ace Hardware. The Lenexa, Kansas-based chain operates about 100 neighborhood hardware stores in eight states across the Midwest and South, including Texas, Oklahoma and North Carolina.
From June 22 to July 9, customers were invited to donate any amount, from $1 to $20. Nearly $51,000 was raised, enough for 3,427 fans made available at cost; to this total, Westlake donated another 500 fans. They’ll be distributed to low-income seniors, qualified families with children, and adults with disabilities in The Salvation Army Southern and Central territories.
“Every store is trying to reach out and be a good community member,” said Joe Jeffries, chief operating officer at Westlake Ace.
Corps in Corpus Christi and Corsicana, Texas, are among the first in the nation to distribute not simply fans, but air conditioners.
In Corpus Christi, CPL Retail Energy, a local utility, donated $10,000 to buy 30 portable air conditioners. An area cooling contractor, One Hour Air Conditioning & Heating, volunteered to install them. The corps has been taking applications and selecting recipients.
Air conditioners have gone to the elderly, people transitioning from a Salvation Army shelter to their own homes and other vulnerable populations, said Yamid Duerte, community relations and development coordinator in Corpus Christi.
In Corsicana, $1,500 from Community National Bank and $1,000 from Home Depot funded the purchase of 12 window air conditioners and 50 fans. So far, eight air conditioners have gone to elderly persons or those with small children or a medical disability and no central cooling in their homes, said Sergeant Toby Romack of the Corsicana Corps.
“We have four left,” Sergeant Romack said in late July. “It’s supposed to be 107 degrees here by Friday, so I’m sure they’ll go real fast.”