Orlando Command Serves a Community Devastated by Pulse Nightclub Shooting
By: Laura Poff
On the morning of Sunday, June 12, 2016, Majors Ted and Pamala Morris, Orlando area commanders, woke up and started to prepare for morning worship. It was a Sabbath like any other, until Major Pam
turned on the news and learned they had slept through the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.
Majors Morris, recalling the Pulse nightclub tragedy on its recent one-year anniversary, said they contacted county and city officials; they were asked to bring food and water. At 1 p.m., the officers along with employees and volunteers took a canteen to the secured area surrounding the club.
The canteen remained on-site for nine days, staffed by volunteers who served three meals each day to federal agents, local officers, medical examiners and city officials investigating the shooting. Area restaurants donated food and beverages that Salvation Army volunteers served in a quiet, air conditioned tent.
Steve Rocca, Orlando Advisory Board chair, arrived Monday morning and remained on-site, serving at every meal until the scene was cleared more than a week later. He began to speak with and pray over agents while they ate. He shared a meal with an FBI agent on the team responsible for mapping the bodies and bullets inside the club.
“She told me about her two young children and how she couldn’t communicate how hard this was to them,” he said. “Then she stopped, got really quiet, her eyes drifted, and she looked at me and told me everything she had seen.”
Rocca served for 180 hours, praying before each meal, and on walks around the exterior of the club, over those inside, those who mourned and those who investigated.
“At first, our service was primarily food,” Major Ted said. “Steve’s experience really showed us that food was secondary to the ministry of just being there.”
Kelvin Coachman, social services director, was at the Camping World Stadium, where families and victims received assistance. Coachman passed out gas and grocery gift cards along with mortgage, rent and utility assistance to help those who had been injured and were awaiting disability checks, and to family members who had lost a breadwinner.
“The immensity of the situation hit you there,” Major Ted said. “We saw people with gunshot wounds, in wheelchairs, who had been through this terrible thing and had come to get some help.”
Coachman recalled meeting families who just needed food to serve at their relative’s funeral.
“The days were long and grueling, but I felt like I was able to do something,” he said.
Rocca, who also served food and snacks to those at the stadium awaiting assistance, recalled praying with people he might not have spoken to before.
“We came together in a way that we probably never would have,” he said. “That’s why I’m so proud to be a part of The Salvation Army. If a person is in need, we serve them and it isn’t about race or identity or sexuality. We just serve. I love that. We just serve.”