Building community bridges
When it comes to a disaster like COVID–19, The Salvation Army can’t go it alone. They have to have partners.
Lieutenant Michael Borrero, the corps officer in Meriden, Conn., learned that quickly when the number of people to whom he provides food jumped from about 250 people in February to about 800 in April due to COVID–19.
When some local food pantries closed, the administrators donated supplies and food to The Salvation Army. Help also came from food banks and several other community sources.
“We’ve had different organizations, churches, and individuals who have come together and partnered with The Salvation Army to help people in this time,” Borrero said. “It’s been a great blessing.”
In May, Middlesex Community College donated some of its inventory to the corps from the college’s food pantry, known as the Magic Food Bus.
Typically, the Magic Food Bus serves dozens of college students every week who are struggling from food insecurity. However, the college’s campuses in Meriden and Middletown are closed due to COVID–19, which shut down distribution.
“Originally, we weren’t sure how long we would be closed, but now we’re closed for the rest of the semester,” said Dr. Steven Minkler, CEO of Middlesex Community College. “We thought we should give the non–perishable food items to people who need it now, so we brought half of our food to The Salvation Army in Meriden and the other half to the Amazing Grace food pantry in Middletown.”
The donation of about 30 shopping bags, totaling 333 pounds, to the corps included non–perishable food items such as soup, canned vegetables and fruit, macaroni and cheese, and pasta.
A few years ago, the college discovered a number of students had to choose between putting food on the table or coming to school. Often, students were going to classes hungry.
“How can you go to school; how can you have a job if you’re really worried about putting food on the table?” Minkler said. “So, if there’s anything the college can do, such as the food pantry, we’re super happy and willing to do that.”
Students who would normally obtain food from the Magic Food Bus instead found themselves visiting The Salvation Army’s food pantries in Meriden and Middletown.
Borrero called the donation from Middlesex Community College “a blessing to us.”
The college partners closely with the MxCC Foundation, which is a fundraising and charitable arm of the college. Over the last few years, the MxCC Foundation has helped raise substantial funds for the Magic Food Bus food pantry.
“Middlesex Community College is proud to have a deep relationship with folks and organizations in the community and one of our partners is The Salvation Army,” said Minkler. “The Salvation Army has been a great supporter. They have provided drinks for runners in our 5–K Cap & Gown Race, which we usually do every year. We are really excited to partner with The Salvation Army to get food to our students and their families in need during this time.”
The Salvation Army food pantry in Meriden is open from 9 a.m. to noon on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. The soup kitchen is open from noon to 1 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.
“We’ve been able to serve each individual with a good and hearty meal,” Borrero said. “We’ve seen an increase in the number of people who have never come to our food pantry who have lost jobs. That’s something new.”
While some feel ashamed or awkward about seeking help, Borrero said he and his wife, Lieutenant Kate Borrero, try to put everyone at ease and create a “ministry of presence.”
“We try to show compassion and hear their voices,” he said. “We ask them, ‘Did you lose your job? It’s OK, you’re more than welcome to come each week if you need to.’ They’re surprised by the amount of food that we give them. We just try to show the love of God to these individuals, especially those who might feel a little bit embarrassed.”
Borrero said the corps staffers have delivered food to the elderly and people who have no transportation, along with the sick and others who are stuck at home for fear of catching the virus.
“We show compassion by being a listening ear to those who want to share their story and difficulties during this time,” he said.
“We stay 6 feet apart, but just that one interaction we get once a week means a lot. We ask them how they’re doing. They really appreciate the fact that we’re not just bringing them food, but we’re bringing conversation and they get to talk to somebody, which is a beautiful thing.”
Borrero said he also has seen members of his congregation “take church out of a building to their own personal life” during COVID–19.
“We’ve been doing Bible studies via Zoom and we’ve seen the potential for our members to be able to see what the Bible and a verse is saying,” he said. “They give opinions and they’re more active.
“We’ve seen an increase in that and it’s been a great blessing to see how our congregation has grown when they read the scriptures and meditate and worship on their own. They’re finding ways to connect with God outside of a building.”
by Robert Mitchell and Laura Krueger