New Challenges, New Skills
In January, Emily Mew, state coordinator for the Salvation Army’s Emergency Disaster Services (EDS) in Massachusetts, traveled to Puerto Rico after a massive earthquake hit the island. Although its magnitude was 6.4, she would soon learn about a greater disaster which loomed on the horizon. It was there she first heard about COVID–19 and how it had reached countries outside of China. Her team was concerned that they would become grounded in Puerto Rico because of it when their work was done.
“A few weeks after we all had returned to the United States, COVID–19 finally hit us,” says Mew. EDS took on a crisis that was far different than anything they had ever dealt with before. For Mew, it meant facing new challenges at home, and inventing new ways to serve the community in her position, which she had just started in September 2019.
Before the pandemic, Mew’s typical EDS assignment might have been managing a canteen at a local emergency such as a house fire. “But after helping in Puerto Rico, I came home to COVID–19 and everything with it. Who would have imagined that six months later, we’d still be in it?”
Behind the wheel
The pandemic forced the temporary closure of all Salvation Army thrift stores for several months. However, the Adult Rehabilitation Center (ARC) in Springfield, Mass, which is home to its thrift store, became a hub for collecting and distributing food and supplies. The men of the Springfield ARC were eager to help in any way they could. EDS workers invited them to help fill food boxes. To be better able to work with the men of the ARC in a warehouse setting, Mew earned a forklift operator’s license.
“In their busiest times, the men were making up to 600 boxes a week for western Massachusetts,” says Mew. “The ARCs usually work pretty independent, but COVID–19 brought them together with EDS and social services.”
When the thrift stores reopened in the summer, Mew learned to drive a box truck. She transported materials from the warehouses and made food pickups from as far away as the Eastern Territorial Headquarters in Nyack, N.Y.
“When the thrift stores needed their space for donations again, I delivered pallets of food and supplies from the warehouse to the local corps. I had to learn how to maneuver food pallets with pallet jacks and get them off the truck using the liftgate,” remembers Mew. “It was scary at times; I began to think at one point, Everything is going to tip over!”
A balancing act
As a first responder and a mother, Mew’s response to the pandemic was both professional and personal. Her responsibilities to her job and family are something that many working parents in all fields have struggled to maintain since the pandemic began.
“I have two school–age children,” says Mew. “At first, the school administration said school would only be closed for two weeks, but it became much longer.”
Life became a balancing act for Mew. Even with her family’s help, she worked hard to focus on her responsibilities as a parent and also as a relatively new EDS employee. She knew during this deadly pandemic that there was a community in need.
“I started to feel bad. I knew my supervisor and The Salvation Army were counting on me for support but I couldn’t give my all to the work that needed me. At the same time, I couldn’t be with my children as much as I would have liked to be and to stay in tune with their needs.”
Avoiding Groundhog Day
From the earthquake in Puerto Rico to COVID–19 in the United States, Mew’s year has been fraught with extraordinary challenges. But from her six years in the Salvation Army’s Service Extension Department to her position in EDS today, she’s always preferred to work towards learning new things and taking on new challenges.
“There can come a point in some workplaces where I feel like there’s nothing left for me to learn. It becomes like the movie ‘Groundhog Day;’ I’m reliving the same day over and over,” says Mew. “So, I look for the next challenge and an opportunity to learn something new.”
The Salvation Army’s response to COVID–19 was that new opportunity for Mew, and for EDS. She gives credit to Chris Farrand, Regional Director for Emergency Disaster Services, for having the creativity to adapt to the pandemic.
“Chris was the one who developed the model of having hubs, food boxes, and what would go in them. It was all completely new, and because of him and all of our teams across the state, it worked. It’s all about figuring out new ways to do what we’re good at here in The Salvation Army. I feel incredibly privileged to do this and to work with such amazing and dedicated people.”
by Hugo Bravo