Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Salvation Army -- Mobile Outreach to Hungry and Homeless

Claudia Rowland,
Divisional Social Services Director
Most Americans know The Salvation Army through those famous red kettles into which bell ringers encourage us to place our money at Christmastime.  A tremendous amount of good flows from these and other funds – in 2008 over 30 million Americans received help from The Salvation Army.

But The Salvation Army is not fundamentally a social service organization – it is a worldwide evangelical Christian denomination, founded about 1865 in London and “dedicated to bringing people into a meaningful relationship with God through Christ.”  For soldiers in The Salvation Army, “Christianity is synonymous with service.” 

To learn more, specifically about the role The Salvation Army plays in feeding hungry Americans, we visited the Chicago Metropolitan Division.  Claudia Rowland, Divisional Social Services Director, gave us an overview.  In addition to disaster services and volunteer programs, most services of The Salvation Army are offered through Corps Community Centers.  In the Chicago area 30 centers provide traditional church ministries integrated with a very large number of direct social services.  Among the services at each center is a food pantry that distributes food to anyone in need.  Food comes through direct donations, FEMA, and the Greater Chicago Food Depository.  The Salvation Army also runs the Golden Diners Service that feeds over 4,000 seniors in the western suburbs of Chicago.

The Salvation Army houses about 1,000 people a day in its 5 Chicago-area residences, people in need of a place to stay and more.  In spite of this, and efforts by the City of Chicago and other social service agencies, hunger, homelessness, and addiction remain in wide-spread pockets throughout Chicago.  According to Ms. Rowland, The Salvation Army decided that rather than constructing another building, their best chance to help these individuals was to reach out to them where they were already congregating.  
Captain Nancy Powers and Christine B. Henry
Thus, in 2008, Captain Nancy Powers, Director of the Chicago Harbor Light Center, began the Mobile Outreach program.  Christine B. Henry, now Director of Homeless Services, was its first case worker. 

Mobile Outreach is similar to Mobile Feeding, a program of The Salvation Army that delivers hot meals to people at about 25 locations a day throughout Chicago.  But Mobile Outreach is more – rather than quickly moving from site to site, it remains for up to 2 hours at each of 5 sites, 5 days a week.  Sites are chosen to be close to those in need, but are sometimes adjusted based on safety concerns relayed by town officials or police.

In addition to providing hot food and a chance for those served to know that they are not forgotten, Mobile Outreach includes full case management for anyone who wants it.  The Mobile Outreach truck incudes a small private office area for case workers to meet with individuals who would like further services.  Anyone who is ready to move to residential or treatment programs can be transported there immediately in the “chaser” van.

Who are the people served by Mobile Outreach?  Captain Powers shared some general statistics and trends with us.  Although the largest percentage (about 45%) are between the ages of 31 and 50, more teens and seniors are now coming for services.  The teens may have been put out of their homes due to drug use or misbehavior, and the seniors may be unable to pay for food as well as rent and medications.  About 61% are single men, 17% women with child(ren), 16% single women, and the remainder men or couples with child(ren).  About 89% are African American.  Nearly ¾ have no income.  About 24% are homeless, 35% are living in emergency housing, and 21% are living with relatives or friends.   Many are ex-offenders, and many suffer from drug and/or alcohol abuse, mental illness, physical disability, and domestic violence. 
Warren Peeler and Trina Poole

We volunteered for a day with Mobile Outreach.  In the morning, driver BJ, food server Warren Peeler, and case worker Trina Poole made sure the truck (affectionately named “Ladle”) had all the bowls, cups, napkins, and other supplies it needed. Then they loaded the food:
  • 5 large canisters of spicy vegetable soup that had been freshly prepared in the Harbor Light kitchen that morning
  • 3 large cold drink dispensers (2 with fruit drink, 1 with water)
  • 2 boxes of sliced bread of various types
  • 1 box of apples
Our tour of duty lasted all day, with breaks between stops, and covered about 24 miles.  We helped serve juice and bread, handed out apples to those who could eat them, and talked with many of the people who came for food.  Here are a few things that impressed us:
  • Everyone seemed to appreciate the soup and to like how hearty and flavorful it was (even if they might have preferred chili-mac).
  • We served a huge range of people, approximating the statistics Captain Powers had shared with us.
  • Warren, who himself is a graduate of Harbor Light’s addiction recovery program, was masterful at keeping to the rules of safe food handling, recognizing and enthusiastically welcoming the people we served, and watching out for the orderliness of the operation and safety of the staff and clients.
  • Trina, who has her master’s degree in social work and prior experience working with people who are homeless, engaged folks in easy conversation, provided information about The Salvation Army’s services, as well as services from other agencies, and after private consultation, started one young man on the road to permanent housing and mental health services.

We completed our day extremely grateful that these wonderful people of The Salvation Army are ministering to the very poor with such compassion and such ready connection with the services they may need.  Claudia Rowland, Nancy Powers, and Christine Henry all agreed that the biggest challenge facing The Salvation Army going forward is funding.  In this economy, it is extremely difficult to come up with the money to continue valuable services such as those we saw in Chicago. 

We know that we’ll be contributing generously to those red kettles and more.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for visiting the FIrts United Methodist Church today "The Coppertop"