Clearwater performing arts venue partners with Army to feed hungry people
By: Brad Rowland
With many in dire need across the country and the world, The Salvation Army is operating at increased capacity with an eye on doing the most good in local communities. In Clearwater, Florida, drive-thru food distribution events have been a way of life at The Salvation Army’s social services campus but, with demand on the rise and size limitations with the property and its parking lot, an uptick in food delivery was difficult.
As such, The Salvation Army began partnering with Ruth Eckerd Hall on an additional, weekly drive-thru distribution that can accommodate more individuals and make a substantial impact in the process.
“On our social services campus, we were limited in terms of how many cars could be on or around our property,” said Teresa Hibbard, director of development. “Otherwise, there would be a real traffic issue. We could only serve so many people. By expanding and adding Ruth Eckerd Hall, our service greatly expanded.”
Ruth Eckerd Hall is a 73,000-square-foot performing arts venue located on a major thoroughfare in Clearwater. As a result of its more than 2,000-seat capacity, the location features a large parking lot and infrastructure already in place. Kevin Chinault, social services director for the Army in Clearwater, connected with the mayor of Clearwater and, in the process, touched base with a major food provider to ensure that all food distribution is supported by donations.
In addition to the donated food, the partnership with Ruth Eckerd Hall also netted help on the ground, with staff at the facility helping distribute goods. Security services, in partnership with the Clearwater Police Department, are also offered, with handmade masks distributed after a large donation from a local non-profit.
“Ruth Eckerd Hall was amazing in their support of The Salvation Army’s June events,” said Major Ted Morris, corps officer. “In addition to providing the perfect venue, they donated staff for security, traffic flow and food distribution. We could not be more blessed.”
“This entire crisis is an ever-moving target,” Hibbard said. “We are adapting, and Ruth Eckerd Hall has been great and wonderful. The Clearwater Police have been wonderful. We’ve really had amazing partners during this time.”
Food boxes include non-perishable items, as well as fresh produce, proteins, milk, cheese and more. More than 3,000 hungry families were served in June, with this partnership continuing through July with the potential for expansion beyond that timeline.
In mirroring the rest of the country, demand for social services assistance is skyrocketing in the area. This is especially true of individuals who previously worked in the hospitality industry and, with tourism as a central tenet in Clearwater, the community has been hard-hit by closures, reduced hours and layoffs.
While the partnership with Ruth Eckerd Hall is helping The Salvation Army reach individuals with pre-existing relationships and defined needs, the outreach is also wide-ranging and touches many who were not in contact with the organization previously.
“I think we’ve laid the foundation and built credibility and trust with people that we’ve never served before,” Hibbard said. “I think they know that, when the time comes, people in this community know that The Salvation Army will be there for them. A feeding program and a partnership like this can also be an opportunity to open the door to other services that The Salvation Army can provide to people to really make an impact and change lives.”