The Salvation Army strives to meet demands of COVID-19 crisis
By: Dan Childs
In reaching out to help people most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, The Salvation Army is operating in unfamiliar and uncharted territory. The public health crisis demands the best of what the Army offers in its social services outreach while also making strong demands on its disaster relief services. And, of course, those demands are magnified by the limitations imposed by the need for social distancing. Simply put, it can be challenging to help people while trying to maintain some distance from them.
Nonetheless, Salvation Army disaster relief teams have been mobilized across the 15 states of the USA Southern Territory to help, and the territory’s social services wing is likewise meeting a wide array of challenges to get help to the people most in need, especially with millions of Americans out of work as a result of economic turmoil caused by the pandemic.
The top three priorities for the Army at this time are keeping Salvation Army housing programs open, continuing to provide meals to needy individuals and families and distributing essential supplies, such as food boxes, cleaning products and personal protective equipment, including masks and gloves, said Jeff Jellets, territorial disaster coordinator. Many shelters across the territory have actually increased their capacity during the crisis, despite adhering to the CDC’s guidelines for social distancing.
“We are, of course, not doing this alone,” Jellets said. “We are working closely with our partners in government and virtually staffing federal and state Emergency Operations Centers. We are also collaborating with fellow non-profits, like our nation’s food banks, to secure and deliver food supplies.
Jellets added that with social distancing now the norm, the Army has had to confront another new challenge: How do we provide the emotional and spiritual counseling that has become a foundational outreach for The Salvation Army during a disaster?
The Army’s response has been the establishment of an Emotional and Spiritual Care Hotline. Implemented March 27, the hotline is accessible by calling 844-458-4673 (HOPE) between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. The hotline is staffed by Salvation Army officers and employees working in shifts. Spanish-language help is available on the hotline.
“While COVID-19 has made social distancing the norm, The Salvation Army will not give up when it comes to comforting the lonely, isolated or distraught,” Jellets said. “Instead, we have established an emotional and spiritual care hotline where those in need can find a friendly, caring and compassionate voice who can help ease fears.”
Social distancing has become a necessary fact of life, but it continues to erect obstacles that must be negotiated. From the outset of the coronavirus crisis, Salvation Army units in the field have been getting food to people most in need. Mobile feeding, a staple of Salvation Army disaster service during a disaster, must be performed differently to make it safe.
“It’s a different animal now,” Jellets said. “Our feeding is now grab-and-go or drive-thru; that’s really the best way to get food to people now.”
The Salvation Army is working with the Midwest Food Bank, with whom it has partnered in past disasters, to distribute food boxes.
Although some of the less densely populated areas in the Southern Territory have not yet felt the full brunt of the pandemic’s toll, other areas have been hit hard. As of March 31, Florida had over 4,700 coronavirus cases. Louisiana, which has seen alarmingly high increases in the past few days, had over 3,500 cases, and Georgia reported more than 2,700 cases.
All 15 states in the Southern Territory are in some state of emergency, with guidelines and restrictions varying from state to state. About 16 percent of the nation’s confirmed coronavirus cases are in the states that make up the USA South.