Going it alone
Ohio is starting to slowly reopen after the COVID–19 outbreak there. Lieutenant Erik Muhs remembers the early days of the pandemic at the Steubenville, Ohio, Corps.
He and his wife, Lieutenant Barri Vazquez–Muhs, told their only employee, a senior citizen, to stay home for her own safety, even though they faced a huge increase in people seeking food. Because the corps is cramped and most of its volunteers are seniors—the most vulnerable to the virus—the decision was made to keep them at home.
“It was a lot of extra work and it was just my wife and I for the entire month of April,” Muhs said. “We were kind of on overdrive. It was definitely a stressful time. We were physically exhausted every day, relying on the Lord to get us through to the next day.”
They did get some help from the high school football team, which helped unload 10,000 pounds of food and bring it into the corps. Muhs and the high school principal are members of the Kiwanis Club.
The closest Salvation Army corps to Steubenville is in Weirton, W.Va., in the Southern Territory. Nonetheless, corps officers there sent volunteers to help unload trucks.
While on their own, the Lieutenants Muhs distributed 3,078 meals in April 2020 compared to 1,908 meals for the same month in 2019. Steubenville’s population is less than 18,000.
“We are seeing people come for help now for the first time because of layoffs and job losses,” Lieutenant Erik said.
The Lieutenants Muhs soon came up with a workable social distancing solution for food distribution: One of them would take phone calls and talk to people in person via an intercom. The other officer would assemble food boxes in the pantry at the back of the corps. They used walkie talkies to communicate the details of each order. They placed the completed food boxes outside the back door where residents picked them up.
The boxes included Salvation Army magazines, such as SACONNECTS, puzzles, games, and goodies for kids.
Muhs said he and Lieutenant Barri also showed up at the corps on Sunday “just in case anyone needed prayer.”
“The small community has been appreciative,” Muhs said. While the corps could not accept clothing, household items, and other material goods during the height of COVID–19, he said monetary donations “have definitely exceeded our expectations.”
“The community seemed to really embrace us through this,” Muhs said.
by Robert Mitchell