Alice, a mother of four children – three girls ages nine, seven and two, and a little boy just eight months old – is facing a lot of pressure as the head of household out of work since the Coronavirus pandemic struck. She had been working in transportation, driving elderly and nursing home patients to their doctor and dental appointments, sometimes over twenty people per day. Since COVID-19 precautions began and her patients were recognized as an especially vulnerable population to the disease, there have been no more rides, as appointments are either held virtually or postponed indefinitely. Alice has been out of work for two weeks now and is already feeling the effects. Unable to meet her financial obligations with no clear return to work in sight, she came to The Salvation Army in Meadville, overwhelmed. Social worker Rochelle immediately helped ease her burden with a glimmer of hope to see this thing through: Giant Eagle grocery store gift cards, a brimming box of food, and assistance with her rent payment.
Amanda, a mother of three girls, arrived extra early for the food box distribution at The Salvation Army in Sharon. Amanda is disabled and her husband has been out of work since the COVID-19 crisis began. The family doesn’t own a vehicle, so Amanda’s uncle drove her and her youngest daughter this morning; two of her girls are now also homebound since schools cancelled classes. That’s also the reason that high school and college student volunteers are helping load the cars with food now, utilizing their time off to help people. Amanda says the food box will be a huge help now that the entire family is eating three meals per day at home, and is especially appreciative of the fresh milk and meat, which will help them make it through until her husband receives his first anticipated unemployment check sometime next week.
The Salvation Army Remains Essential: New Normal in New Kensington
We are all now entrenched in challenging times, but our prospects for the near future are still hanging in the balance. So many are asking: when will I get an unemployment check…or, will I get one at all? Will the business reopen…when?…will I still have a job, then? We’re measuring our time in fifteen- or thirty-day increments that can feel like an eternity. While so much of our daily routine has ground to a halt, one thing is certain: all of life's usual ups and downs, strife, struggles and problems – especially for those on a limited budget, living paycheck-to-paycheck – don't stop for a pandemic.
Another thing is certain too. The Salvation Army is still fighting the good fight, for you.
Jody was just one person in Western Pennsylvania feeling the pressure of trouble piling up when she called The Salvation Army New Kensington at the end of March. Her adult daughter had been working as a CPA until a serious and sudden medical crisis, a brain aneurysm, profoundly affected her everyday life, even pre-COVID-19 pandemic. Abruptly, she needed help caring for herself…and her five children. The entire family moved in with Jody, including her daughter’s husband, who until the coronavirus outbreak, had a job in engineering. Now, he’s laid off as well. Now, it’s both a health and financial risk just to go to the grocery store, but Jody has seven more mouths to feed. That phone call was a desperate one.
Salvation Army Captain Phillip Davies and the social services caseworker invited Jody to come to the Center as soon as she could. Together, they sat and talked about better times, current needs, and hopes for brighter times, somewhere on the horizon.
That day, Salvation Army staff and dedicated volunteers started unloading the food truck deliveries at 8:30 a.m. for emergency food pantry distribution, and a line of socially-distant seniors, single parents and others – 250 families in need – patiently awaited their box of food including fresh milk, fruits and vegetables, frozen meat, dry goods and staples to get them through those measured days, even a month. Jody was one of them who left with boxes of food to help her and her family get through the next few weeks, together. She never needed to ask for help before and had never stepped foot inside a Salvation Army – but now she knew, she had somewhere to go for life’s essentials like food…and compassion.
Even Salvation Army New Kensington Captain Phillip takes comfort in that. “It’s good to know that in these hard times, people know they will find a helping hand at the Salvation Army. This is the kind of work I was called to do, and always feel privileged to help people like Jody.”
Wednesday was a special night... The Easter Bunny accompanied the Captain Joel and Sue Thwaite while they make their rounds to hand out 600 meals to 200 children in the Monessen area. In additional to the meals, the Easter Bunny gave each child a bag of candy and a special gift for girls and boys who are in need. The gifts include toy cars, barbie dolls, footballs, board games and jump ropes, an extra blessing to help kids who are quarantined during this time and provide a little happiness as they celebrate the Easter holiday.
“Easter is an important season,” said Captain Sue Twaite. “It’s a season of hope. We wanted to give all 200 kids we saw toady hope.”
Each child received three heat and eat meals, a supplement to what the school district is providing. The goal is to help stretch their finances during this critical time, while helping people take care of their families.
“An Angel during a time of need”
Dawn – Mother of two, fostering an infant
Monessen, PA Corps
“Captain Sue is my guardian angel. Without her, this little baby in my house would have nothing,” said Dawn.
Dawn has two immune compromised daughters and just took custody of her cousin’s six-month-old baby. “My cousin and his girlfriend are just not in a good place right now. Drugs are more important than anything, even caring for themselves, let alone an infant.”
“With all that I hear and see in the news I’m terrified to leave my house. I don’t want to get sick and I don’t want to bring anything home to all my girls. I’m scared to go out and expose myself as the care giver or them with their immune issues,” said Dawn.
A few weeks ago, Captain Sue made sure Dawn’s baby had formula because she didn’t have the means that week to provide it.
“Captain Sue went to the store and purchased my groceries and other items I needed. She left the groceries by the front gate. I trust Captain with my debit card, and she shopped for me. I had no one else I could trust with my bank information. I have known Captain Sue since she married my sister 9 years ago. She’s an angel,” said Dawn.
As a volunteer at the Salvation Army of Aliquippa, Ashley Matesic strives to better the lives of those in need. But recently, it was Matesic and her neighbors who needed help. On Saturday, March 28, Matesic and 36 other households were forced to evacuate their apartments at Valley Terrace D Building when half of the first floor was flooded. While the American Red Cross arranged for some of them to stay at a Center Township hotel for four days, the Salvation Army of Aliquippa immediately sprang into action and provided food for those 37 households. With Lt. Candace Horsman spearheading the effort, those displaced residents soon had enough food to last until to they returned home last week.
“I reached out to mayor (Dwan Walker),” Horsman said. “He said they needed food while they were staying at the hotel. The Red Cross was so generous to put them up in a hotel. We wanted to help even further and give them hotel-friendly food items.
“So myself and a few volunteers got together the morning after and put some food boxes together and gathered up some gift cards we had available. We delivered them to the hotel and gave them to the families.”
The hotel-friendly food items included bread, peanut butter and jelly, cereal, microwavable items, etc.
“She just wanted to help out as much as she could because this is her area and these are her people,” Matesic said of Horsman.
A native of Boston, Horsman was assigned to the Salvation Army of Aliquippa two years ago.
“I love it,” she said. “I love this community. It has my heart.”
Located on Franklin Avenue, the Salvation Army of Aliquippa is a church-based, charitable organization that provides assistance with clothing, food, and other services to alleviate some of the physical and financial perils to those in need.
“We’re a mission,” Horsman said. “We preach the gospel and meet human need.”
Last week, when it delivered food supplies to relocated families, the Salvation Army of Aliquippa got help from other organizations.
“It was a multi-organization effort with a few other agencies,” Horsman said.
Helping out were Gospel Tabernacle, a church in Aliquippa; Pittsburgh-based Church Army USA, which runs at Uncommon Grounds Cafe in Aliquippa; and Aliquippa Impact, a youth development organization.
Food supplies were also delivered to 30 households who were not displaced. Because utilities such as electricity and gas were turned off due to the flooding, all the food in their refrigerators had spoiled.
“We wanted to help them because of the perishable items they lost,” Horsman said.
“They are very grateful for the support. A lot of them are struggling already, and this flood was something that brought more discouragement. So we just wanted to be there and support them and brighten their lives and help meet a few of their needs. They were very grateful.”
On Wednesday, April 8, those seven households that have been at a Center Township hotel are scheduled to move back to Valley Terrace D Building.
Besides providing food supplies to those households from Valley Terrace Building D, the Salvation Army of Aliquippa’s Food Bank has been extra busy during the coronavirus pandemic.
Before COVID-19, they typically delivered lunch bags to 50 households in the Aliquippa. That number has now expanded to around 150.
“We are busy,” Horsman said. “We saw a need. We wanted to help out communities and school districts.
“We created a Mobile Lunch Program where we go to different neighborhood stops around Aliquippa and we drop off lunches to children.”
The Mobile Lunch Program distributes an average of 600 lunches each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. So that’s 1,800 lunches weekly.
Currently, the Mobile Lunch program is funded by the Salvation Army of Aliquippa’s general operating account, along with donations from individuals and churches.
“They’re donations from real generous partners,” Horsman said.
“It is getting somewhat expensive,” she added. “So we’re trying to drum up more support. We would greatly appreciate any monetary support which will allow us to continue offering this program, “We are also accepting nonperishable food items to go in the lunch bags.”
In an average week, Captains Amber and Jason Imhoff and their team of volunteers stuff about 600 bags with nutritious snack foods and quick-and-easy meal staples like whole grain cereals and granola, dried and fresh fruits, canned pastas and soups, peanut butter, crackers and much more, and distribute them to area schools in Washington County for students who may need a nutritional boost over the weekend. But as we know, average weeks are a thing of the past.
Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic threat, The Salvation Army Washington has ramped up their delivery of the Love-in-a-Backpack program for children of food-insecure families. Besides the five schools they normally serve in the McGuffey, Trinity and Washington districts along with four Head Start locations, The Salvation Army is also serving the Canonsburg district in this time of need. Now, they’re heading out into locations within the community five days a week, two sites per day, handing out 1,500 bags by Friday of healthy food, happiness and hope.
The happiness is for the kids: one week it was a kite, the next sidewalk chalk, then beach balls. Each March, The Salvation Army Washington celebrates Read Across America. “Usually, we have mini family celebration events in March throughout the community, but because of the Coronavirus quarantine, we distributed the Scholastic books with the food give away,” said Captain Amber.
It’s a wonderful lift in mood for Melissa and her two sets of twins, boys age eight and girls thirteen. “It means so much to my kids!” Melissa says. “They look forward to the bags every week. Because my kids can’t get out due to home confinement, they get so excited to see what special goodies Captain Amber has prepared for them.” And, Melissa says, “the food also is a huge help. It helps us stretch the food budget a little more, too. My unemployment is a week behind and every little bit helps.”
“The superintendent of schools reached out to me and begged us not to stop the Love-in-a- Backpack program,” Captain Amber said. “We didn’t know how we were going to keep things going but the Washington County Community Foundation and other donors have stepped up,” including a $10,000 initial donation and a grant match challenge up to $40,000 from that foundation until the end of May. Several local companies and individuals are rallying around this generous fundraising opportunity, such as Chrome Credit Union’s push to donate their advertising space to the grant challenge and even mailing each of their customers personally to encourage them to donate to The Salvation Army, too.
The sentiment of neighbors helping neighbors couldn’t be stronger throughout Washington at every level. Even though Melissa is struggling, she’s always reminded to count her blessings…doubly! When she picks up the Love-in-a-Backpack bags for her kids, she also picks up thirty more.
“Not all the people in my neighborhood drive,” Melissa says. “See, we meet at the local gas station at noon and I distribute to all the families who can’t get up to the school.”
Now, the Captains are seeing families who have previously supported The Salvation Army monetarily, waiting in line at the bag distribution, not to give, but to receive. This level of financial struggle and uncertainty is humbling and heartbreaking. “We are only giving them a small bag but it means so much,” Captain Jason Imhoff says. “Many of these recipients are our neighbors and working families from businesses we patronize, and they are so appreciative.”
And The Salvation Army goes on giving hope. The phone number for the organization’s Emotional and Spiritual Care Hotline is tucked in the bags, too, for parents, grandparents and guardians feeling the strain.
“For the families in our community, it’s not about how much food is in the bag, but bringing a little hope,” Captain Amber says. “It reminds the kids that someone cares about them and that they will get through these uncertain times. It’s also about the times of prayer I spend with the families through car windows. The families I have heard from have been so incredible.”