The Salvation Army’s response to winter weather

Western Territory hit hard by storms and freezing temperatures.

by Georgia Tzanidis – 

It seems like no matter what part of the West you live in these days, one thing is for sure—it’s cold! This winter has brought some of the heaviest blizzards that some areas have seen in years and now challenges us with record freezing temperatures. In the midst of this unforgiving winter, The Salvation Army has been out there hoping to lend a helping hand and, no doubt, a warm one.

Northern California
In the last couple of weeks, the freezing temperatures in the northern part of California have forced Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to declare a State of Emergency in at least 10 counties including the cities of Fresno and Santa Barbara. The Salvation Army has responded by working with the State Department of Social Services and local operational areas to provide assistance and help identify those hardest hit by the weather and advise them on where to seek assistance.

Nearly 20 corps from the Golden State and Del Oro divisions have been involved in directly assisting and or providing support to other agencies and shelters. Reno, Marin, Bakersfield, and Sacramento mobile kitchens have been on the streets at night providing hot food, drinks, coats, blankets and sleeping bags to the homeless.
Captain David Ebel, Bakersfield corps officer,commented, “The Red Cross managed the ‘shelter’ part of the warming center and we [The Salvation Army] provided food, council and outreach. The Kern County Fire Department loaned us their kitchen trailer which allowed us to prepare bigger and better meals in their larger kitchen.”

To date, the Salvation Army has sheltered over 160 people, opened over 700 warming centers, provided over 3,700 meals at shelters, and supplied shelters with 2,500 pounds of food.

Intermountain Division
This past December, Denver and parts of southeast Colorado suffered a series of serious snowstorms that the state had not seen in nearly 100 years. The blizzards forced all major highways running through Denver to close and impacted holiday travel as hundreds were left stranded at Denver International Airport. During the storm, the Intermountain Division’s Emergency Disaster Services (EDS) teams responded with food, beverages and blankets.

In response to the first snowstorm, which blanketed the area with over two feet of snow in most of Denver, local units provided over 300 meals and 600 snacks to two different shelters. Within days, the second snowstorm hit. The Army served 282 meals and an additional 600 snacks. Volunteers, staff and officers contributed over 300 hours of their time during these two storms.

Northwest Division
Heavy wind and rainstorms swept through the Northwest Division last month causing major flooding and power outages. The winds had escalated so greatly in the western part of Washington state that at one point, over one million people were left without power. At the request of the State Emergency Department and King County Emergency Management, The Salvation Army supplied nearly 1,000 blankets to those who were without electricity for several days. Mobile feeding units were also on stand by in Mason County and other remote areas.

The rainstorms resulted in flooding mostly in the Snohomish, Lewis, Mason, and King counties. During the heavy flooding, The Salvation Army was involved in mobile and fixed feeding. Everett Corps Captain Dana Libby, Centralia Corps Captain Ronald Wehnau, and their crew were actively involved in providing roughly 1,500 meals to flood victims and volunteering to assist in the clean up in some of the worst hit flood zones.

Libby further explained: “Through further inquiry, we determined that the effects of the flood would be long-lasting in this community—stretching well past Christmas. We obtained the names and family composition of 93 families in the community and were able to provide Christmas gifts for each child, along with a Christmas dinner food box for each family. This specific Christmas assistance, in support of the flood-stricken area, exceeded $12,000.”

The Everett Corps also provided meals for the Department of Corrections who had inmates participating in the clean up. Wehnau worked with the Emergency Management of Lewis County and set up a fixed feeding site for volunteers and residents.

Although the season’s cold weather has certainly brought the western region many unexpected challenges, it has also offered The Salvation Army another opportunity to provide food and shelter to those in need. In responding to the local weather conditions we have not only reinforced our presence in those communities but also the relationships with other agencies that serve them.

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