The Salvation Army adapts its food distribution practices amid coronavirus

By Christin Thieme–

Feeding people has always been part of The Salvation Army’s service to those in need, yet as the coronavirus pandemic takes hold of communities across the Western Territory, the way food is distributed is changing.

Corps are working diligently to pack food boxes and bags for those facing food insecurity, including seniors isolated during the crisis and kids no longer receiving regular meals because of school closures. The method might look different, but the message remains: The Salvation Army is feeding the hungry.

While many school districts are providing meals for children, it generally requires in-person, daily pick up. The Estrella Mountain Corps in Avondale, Arizona, is therefore focusing on meal delivery to families who cannot get to the schools for pick up. 

“Our main focus is getting meals to kids who are home. Our first plan was to get those to the kids in our after-school program and their siblings because most of them come from families with at least six kids in the home but it goes up to 12 kids in one family,” said Corps Officer Captain Stacy Antonovich. “The school is offering both breakfast and lunch, but each child has to be present at the school at two separate times a day to get those. With parents working that means those kids would be walking back and forth twice a day which doesn’t help minimize the points of contact and isn’t safe for the kids.” 

On March 16, the first day kids in the area were out of school, The Salvation Army delivered just over 300 meals around the neighborhood to the kids from its program and others who needed lunch. 

“When contacting those families, nine of them asked for an additional food box because they need the help,” Antonovich said.

Similarly, in Santa Fe, New Mexico, The Salvation Army has partnered with Santa Fe Public Schools Communities in Schools and Hope Unlimited Church to provide extended breakfast and lunch distribution to kids in a curbside pickup format in at least seven area locations through early April. Corps Officer Lt. Immanuel Beeson said the Santa Fe Corps is also dropping off meals throughout the community for those in need.

“Today was a good day,” Beeson said March 17. “We were able to deliver approximately 393 meals to children in need. Tomorrow we do it again!” 

In Roseville, California, The Salvation Army is calling on symptom-free volunteers to pack lunch and activity bags for kids that will be distributed each Thursday to their homes, along with food bags for seniors in need. The bags for those ages 4–17 will have a different theme each week, from St. Patrick’s Day to welcoming spring, animal fun and Easter. Next week, a mini pot, soil and seeds will encourage the kids to plant. 

“We originally wanted to do a mini-day camp for kids out of school but shifted to these deliveries to keep things light and fun for the kids and work within city recommendations for gatherings,” said Lt. Stephanie Pavlakis, Roseville Corps Officer, who is working with the local school district to ensure helpful materials are sent home to kids. “I have two little ones, so I know a whole day locked in the house can feel like a lot. So we thought of this with a goal to ease the burden for the parents a little bit.”

Courtesy Roseville Corps

They’ve pulled out leftover items from school drives, vacation Bible schools and other donations to use. Five members of the corps and advisory board signed up to pack the bags this week and another five to make deliveries.

“Our drivers will wear Emergency Disaster Services vests and it might have to be a no contact drop off, but we’re hoping to greet at the door to say hi,” she said. As of March 17, 30 children from corps programs are currently on the list and Pavlakis said they’ve now opened sign ups to the community, advertising via Facebook and a press release. “We want to keep the kids connected to us and remind them we’re a safe place and safe people for them. Expanding beyond that, we hope to introduce other families to programs The Salvation Army has to offer and keep kids entertained with simple, fun things.” 

In other locations, client choice food pantries are shifting to pre-packed boxes to limit the handling of food or from congregate meals in the main dining area to room-to-room delivery at the Phoenix Emergency Family Shelter, where they are also doing case management by phone instead of face-to-face.

With a “shelter in place” directive in Santa Cruz County in California until April 7, The Salvation Army is continuing to shelter more than 120 people a night, providing a daily breakfast and dinner.

“We are encouraging our homeless friends to shower as often as available and wash hands regularly,” said Captain Angel Marquez, Corps Officer and County Coordinator, noting two hand washing stations recently received from the city for the building entrance.   

Emergency food bags continue to be available to the general public and the weekly fresh produce was distributed March 17.  

“Usually the produce is ‘farmer’s market’ style, but we pre-bagged and gave out the groceries at the door,” Marquez said. “We were also blessed to begin a new partnership a few months ago with the local Nazarene Church. They felt God calling them to give out diapers and contacted us to distribute them. Because of their diaper donations, we have been able to supply over 25 families with diapers when store shelves were empty. We have more diapers and will continue to give them out as long as we have them available.”



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