‘God is greater’ than COVID–19

Lieutenant Ismael Ortiz of the Wilkes-Barre, Pa., Citadel Corps says people are “terrified” as COVID-19 continues to ravage his community.

“It’s been very challenging, trying to get volunteers for the kettle season and people to come rings bells for us,” Ortiz said. “We’re also seeing an increase of people coming for services, people looking for our food pantry, and people looking for shelter. There is an increase in need but a decrease in volunteers and resources.”

Ortiz said the need is mostly related to COVID–19 as people migrate from New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut to find work. However, job prospects are slim in this northeastern Pennsylvania community.

The corps has received more than 600 applications for Thanksgiving and Christmas and 75 percent of the applicants are new to the area, said Ortiz.

The Kirby Family House shelter can accommodate 10 families. However, it is currently  full and has a waiting list.

The most astounding statistic is that the corps was serving 80 families a month when Ortiz and his wife, Lieutenant Irseris Ortiz, arrived in August. That number has now jumped to about 600 families.

Ortiz said the corps has enlisted several partners, including the Knights of Columbus, Kiwanis, and other social clubs. Several individuals have also contributed.

On the spiritual side, Ortiz said the corps reopened briefly in September, but a spike in COVID cases led to another closure. During the first week back, 11 people attended. In ensuing weeks, that number quickly jumped to 60 and Ortiz moved services to a large gym.

“The spiritual need in our community is there and they’re responsive and they’re coming,” he said. “Many of them are elderly and they don’t have the online platforms.

“Even as we saw the growth in September when we opened up, most of the people were new people. They weren’t people who attend the regular services. Those people were still terrified and watching us online.”

Ortiz said worship and other corps events are now back online, and the Sunday morning service generates about 120 views a week.

“It’s been tough to try to feed the flock through Facebook Live and these other platforms,” Ortiz said. “I don’t really know if our people are being fed what they need.”

Corps members have resorted to calling people on the phone to check up on them. Ortiz said he prays with his congregants, reads the Bible, and urges them to watch services on Facebook Live.

Ortiz and his wife are at their first assignment since being commissioned as Salvation Army officers. They want to set the example as leaders during the pandemic.

“Being placed here as the leaders, we must have that leadership quality,” he said. “We can’t be terrified or show that we’re scared in the midst of this pandemic. We’re just moving forward. We’re serving as if the pandemic wasn’t here. We’re still preaching. We’re still having our services.

“We were put here and appointed by God and we’re not scared. We’re doing what we have to do. Yes, we’re in the middle of a pandemic, but our God is greater.”

by Robert Mitchell

photo by Sean McKeag/

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