Changing with the times, whether from one year to another or one day to the next, the Salvation Army is a model of adaptability.
“We had to shift gears quickly when COVID hit,” said Capt. Doug Hanson, Salvation Army El Paso County Coordinator. “Salvation Army nationally went into emergency disaster service mode for the first time ever. What that meant was we’d all be working hard with no reinforcements coming.”
For example, in the early days of the pandemic Hanson said the demand on the food pantry tripled. Also, staff was aware a number of people were not coming in for meals available to the elderly and disabled. In partnership with Care and Share, COSILoveYou and 211 Colorado, the Salvation Army distributed around 2,000 food boxes in April and May.
With Catholic Community Charities and Fuel Church, the Salvation Army provided meals for the homeless. “Many of the homeless population panhandled or dumpster dived for food, but once restaurants closed, downtown was like a ghost town,” Hanson said. “So we started serving meals from our mobile kitchen on the Westside.”
Funds from the state level of the Salvation Army allowed the local branch to provide rent and mortgage assistance to 167 families.
From its food pantry to its homeless shelters, from after school programs to time-honored fundraising programs, changes were put in place to best serve those in need. “Some of what we did in March through June had a limited shelf life, so we keep shifting gears,” Hanson said.
Some programs have carried over, though, including those involving families. A long-standing policy at the shelters required people leave at 8 a.m. and return at 4 p.m. “For our family shelter, once remote learning started for kids in school we knew we needed to make a change,” Hanson said. “We opened all day for families, which increased staffing and operating costs but it was the humanitarian thing to do.”
When area school districts closed so did the agency’s traditional after-school program. Staff was redirected to help kids with homework and get them outside to play. A room, with desks and Wi-Fi, was permanently set up as an area for middle and high school students for them to do their homework. CDC guidelines for social distancing are in place. The after school program is available for students with working parents.
The Red Kettle campaign is still planned, although Hanson said less foot traffic is anticipated. Nonetheless, bell ringers will wear masks and follow CDC guidelines. Efforts are also increased for online giving opportunities.
“It’s all part of the Rescue Christmas program,” Hanson said. “We believe in the great and brace for impact.”
Hanson said the Salvation Army is the world’s largest nonprofit when it comes to emergencies. “We’re used to a changing environment. I also like to say Salvation Army does the most good, thanks to this community’s support.”