The Salvation Army responds to COVID-19 crisis
By: David Ibata
The Salvation Army Corps in Columbus, Georgia, takes its cue from the local schools on whether to be opened or closed to the public. The schools had indicated they’d stay open despite escalating concerns over the COVID-19 outbreak, so on Saturday, March 14, Captain Josh Hinson went about preparing his message for the Sunday holiness meeting.
The bombshell dropped that afternoon: The schools announced they’d be closed Monday.
“I had a sermon and the elements already prepared; our series in Lent is focused on ‘Walking With Jesus,’” said Captain Josh, who with his wife, Captain Jordan Hinson, commands the Columbus Corps. “A lot of churches were going to be sharing their services online, but I really didn’t feel I had enough time to stream or record or edit our service.”
Captain Josh’s solution: Post his sermon outline, Scripture references, links to worship music and Ministry Toolkit assets on the corps Facebook page, and invite the community to participate in a virtual Bible study.“
I really wanted there to still be a sense of community, whether you’re doing it on your own or with others,” he said. “We did it with my family around our dining room table. We went over some of the Scriptures with the kids and talked about what grace meant.”
As businesses shut down, people lose their jobs and officials urge the public to practice “social distancing” to try to keep novel coronavirus in check, corps and commands are meeting the crisis head-on. Some are streaming their Sunday worship online. Others have offered to be food pickup points for school districts trying to feed children who qualify for free or reduced-priced meals.
All are preparing their social service offices for the expected deluge from households whose breadwinners suddenly find themselves furloughed or unemployed. Economists predicted more than 1 million people in the U.S. could lose their jobs by the end of March.
“We’re preparing to serve our community members who have been economically impacted and who may need a hand up in the coming weeks,” National Commander Commissioner David Hudson said in a video message to Salvationists. “Families in need and people experiencing homelessness often lack access to hygiene supplies, updated information or health care, so many of our facilities and community centers are taking active measures to protect them from the spread of the coronavirus.”
In Columbus, Captain Josh said, “Our schools are closed, as are all sporting events and parks and recreation activities. Our corps is closed for church services and after-school programs, but our social services office is open. We’re getting quite a few calls from people worried about paying their rent. We’re getting more food boxes ready to deliver in the evening in place of our community meals.”
As schools, churches and community programs shut down across the United States, many young people are searching for nourishment. In Lakeland, Florida, the local corps temporarily discontinued its Sunday services March 15. But members of the church still came, as they do each week, to prepare breakfast. The meal was then delivered to children of three families living in hotel rooms.
“Knowing that many of our children rely upon school and corps feeding programs, it became apparent that we would need to step in and fill the food gap for a while until the COVID-19 situation improves,” said Major Barry Corbitt, Salvation Army administrator in the Lakeland area. “We are grateful for caring church members who go the extra mile to care for our kids.”
The Salvation Army in Lakeland plans to continue this service to individuals previously enrolled in its programs.
When Hampton, Virginia, directed businesses and churches to close and cancel events and services, Captain Michael Good of the Virginia Peninsula Corps faced a challenge.“
Our church members are among the ‘vulnerable’ population talked about in this pandemic crisis,” Captain Good said. “We don’t want anyone left behind, and we wanted our people to have the full Sunday experience even if they couldn’t be here in person to worship.”
So, the Virginia Peninsula ministry team met early Sunday, March 15, to assemble and deliver “Church in a Box” to 30 families. The boxes included step-by-step instructions, guiding families through hymns to sing along to, devotionals and scripture readings, games and activities for children, and snacks. While Church in a Box continues, the corps also delivers midweek “Boredom Boxes” to families with children and is working with local authorities to feed and provide food boxes to people in need.
Likewise, the Salvation Army of Central Maryland and its DMG Foods grocery store in Baltimore offered to provide and deliver food pantry items to those quarantined. The Frederick, Maryland, Corps continues to serve breakfast and lunch, but in takeout containers rather than at the corps building.
In Brownwood, Texas, The Salvation Army Service Center switched from serving free lunch in its building, Monday through Friday, to offering free pick-up meals. A typical plateful: pulled pork, bread, baked beans, dessert and tea.
Corps in Charleston, West Virginia, and Jackson, Mississippi, are delivering food to seniors. “It is our goal to make certain that our senior population does not go hungry or forgotten during this difficult time,” said Michelle Hartfield, director of community relations in Jackson.
The Salvation Army in Parkersburg, West Virginia, posted to Facebook that “we continue to feed the hungry and give shelter to the homeless. We cannot do this without the brave staff and volunteers who come to serve alongside us.”
The corps requested donations of board games, card games and art supplies for children in its shelter, as well as Clorox and Lysol wipes, Lysol spray, toilet paper and paper towels.
At The Salvation Army of Whitfield, Murray and Gordon Counties in Dalton, Georgia, “we canceled our weekly meetings like youth programs and home leagues, and we are helping the schools. They are providing breakfast and lunch to kids, and we are one of the stations families can come to get carry-out meals for their children,” said Captain Niurka Pena, who along with her husband, Captain Arnaldo Pena, commands the corps.
Friends of The Salvation Army also are stepping up.
In Atlanta, Georgia, the family of Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman pledged to donate a total of $124,000 for coronavirus relief – $50,000 to the Atlanta Food Bank, $50,000 to Giving Kitchen and $24,000 to The Salvation Army.
Major Bob Parker, area commander for The Salvation Army of Metro Atlanta, thanked the Freeman family and said the donation will help the Army “immediately meet the needs of individuals within our communities who will experience some type of hardship because of the economic fallout of this virus.”
With the closure of Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida, perishable foods have been donated to The Salvation Army in Orlando. Truckloads of apples, oranges, potatoes and other fresh produce are helping the Army assist shelter clients, drop-in clients and others.“
We have been serving the populations most vulnerable to the COVID-19 pandemic, the homeless and senior citizens each day. This generous donation means we can serve so many more in need,” said Captain Ken Chapman, Orlando area commander.
Corps may have canceled Sunday worship services, but they haven’t stopped preaching the gospel.
On Sunday, March 15, the Kentucky-Tennessee Division launched an online worship led by the divisional commanders, Majors Art and Ann Penhale. The half-hour service is streamed at 10:30 a.m. Sundays EDT at www.HolinessMeeting.org, is available for viewing during the week and can be linked to from the social media pages of individual corps. The theme of the Lenten series is, “The Uncertainty of Worry.”
Speaking words of encouragement in another video shared online, Commissioner Willis Howell, territorial commander, said, “As we navigate our way through these next weeks, maybe even months, I would encourage all of you to find comfort and strength in prayer. Remind yourself and those around you who God is and how he has helped in the past. Focus on his strength, his character, his promise, his power.”
“Join me in taking every opportunity to be the hands and feet of Christ within your neighborhoods. Let’s use this time to find new ways to carefully and prayerfully reach out and meet the unique needs around us, in Jesus’ name. As we’re told in 1 Corinthians 16, stay alert, stand firm, show courage, be strong, and whatever you do, do it in love.”
Dalton’s Captain Niurka said, “We’re taking things one day at a time, in faith – just trusting God and encouraging our clients to not be afraid, but to be strong in God and trusting he will take care of us.”
Chris Priest, Michelle Hartfield and Brad Rowland contributed to this story.