Emotional and spiritual care

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On the road in fire country with Captain Trish Poochigian.

by Kathy Lovin –

From Left to Right: Captain Trish Poochigian, Elizabeth, Sarah, Doug, Deborah Tumlinson, and Deborah’s sister.

In the aftermath of the recent Southern California fires, The Salvation Army continues to minister to those people struggling to rebuild their lives.

The Salvation Army’s Emotional and Spiritual Care (ESC) component, or ministry of “presence,” is the area of disaster response and recovery that distinguishes the Army from other major relief organizations. The Army is committed to caring for the inner lives of the people affected.

Ministering to the whole person is nothing new for Captain Trish Poochigian of San Diego’s Centre City Corps, making her an ideal choice to lead an ESC team that travels burned out neighborhoods seeking areas of greatest need.

Each morning Poochigian takes her Army van into fire-damaged areas, jotting down details along the way. She seems energized by the work. She’s organized, too. Things are carefully laid out in the van so she can hop out and give help where it’s needed.

She keeps meticulous notes and marks up her map when she finds a neighborhood that’s been badly burned. Poochigian wants to go back to make contact with the families and offer them some cold water and a snack. But her focus is always to provide the emotional and spiritual care that adds value to the Army’s disaster service.

In the first two days she made 26 face-to-face contacts, and 19 of those were with families who had come back to check out the damage to their homes. She’s given out quite a few clean up tools and more than 20 books called When Your Whole World Changes. When no one is home, she leaves a note.

One of the families she met had put all their valuables in a shed before they evacuated. When they returned home, they found their house still standing but the shed destroyed. Even though the family may have the resources to replace what they lost, Poochigian could tell that their pain was no less overwhelming. She quickly got two bikes for the little girls of the family; one donated by K-Mart and the other by her corps’ Adventure Corps boys. The girls were so excited that they immediately put on the helmets (provided by the Army), jumped on the bikes and rode around their house. Their mom’s face lit up with a genuine smile at the sight of her daughters having a good time.

Poochigian knows that a lot of the work will come in the days ahead as she hears back from some of the families that got one of her notes. She’s prepared and she’s experienced. This is what she and her husband, Thom, do every day in downtown San Diego—help people in crisis and remind them that God loves them and wants to help.

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