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Giving out ‘Hope Boxes’

The Lynn, Mass., Corps Community Center is located in one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the state. Hispanics, Latinos, Cambodians, Russians, Haitians and many other people of African descent all make the city a melting pot.

Captain Kevin Johnson, who co-leads the corps with his wife, Helen, said when COVID-19 hit and businesses closed, many poor immigrants lost their jobs.

“Once they lost that work, they lost that money,” Johnson explained. “This area is low-income and transient because of the immigrants.”

The rents in this Boston suburb are also expensive, further adding to people’s anxiety and fear.

Johnson responded by helping to organize a massive community effort that has resulted in the distribution of more than 4,000 food boxes since the pandemic began. The boxes include enough food for a family of three to survive 5–7 days.

“We call them ‘Hope Boxes.’ We don’t call them food boxes,” Johnson said. “We’re providing hope to them. A lot of them have lost their jobs and are hoping that stimulus check will come sometime soon. The least we can do is provide the basic necessities.

“If anything, we can make things easier for people during this difficult time. I think that’s what Christ would do.”

It truly has been a community effort. City officials have worked with The Salvation Army and have helped Johnson, who has handled the logistics of acquiring food and getting it packed. The corps is now packing more than 15,000 pounds of food per day, thanks to the generosity of Salvation Army donors and food banks.

“This is really a partnership with the city,” he said. “They’ve helped to get funds for this program. They also help deliver and to hand out product.”

Lynn Mutual Aid, a Facebook group, has been a place where everyone can post food needs and share information.

The packing is done at The Salvation Army. The delivery to seniors and other quarantined families is done by city councilors and volunteers, including some from Beyond Our Borders, a Christian ministry. Beneficiaries from the Saugus, Mass., Adult Rehabilitation Center (ARC) have also helped.

“We try to keep the building under 10 people, at most,” Johnson said.

While Johnson has been busy at the corps, his wife has watched the couple’s children and also delivered toys and boxes to the homes of kids involved in corps programming.

Johnson said Lynn’s response to COVID-19 has been a learning experience.

“The Army is opening up to the community and is saying, ‘Hey, we can’t do it all by ourselves, it really has to be done by a community effort and we all need to support one another.’ I think that’s the biggest thing I’ve learned from this process.”

by Robert Mitchell