It’s not over until it’s over
EDS and Social Services team up against COVID–19
Heroism happens when people care so much for others that they forget about themselves and instead focus on the common good. Such was the case with Salvation Army staffers recently. “In our shelters, we had people who tested positive for COVID–19 and couldn’t go anywhere,” says Petra DeCaille–Poleon, assistant territorial social ministries director. “Staff members saw this situation and asked, ‘If I go home, who’s going to take care of these people?’ They put aside their own personal safety and said, ‘I’m not going home. I’m going to stay with them; I’m going to stay. I choose to stay.’”
DeCaille–Poleon, who’s been employed in the Salvation Army’s Social Services Department for over 31 years at Territorial Headquarters, says, “Those were acts of bravery and kindness that went above and beyond the call at a time when personal safety was of the essence.”
“We didn’t know what our capacity was until it was tested,” she remembers. “What I’m most grateful for is the fact that we didn’t abandon the people who were the poorest among us. We didn’t abandon the people who depended on us. We found ways to connect and reconnect with these people. At a time when there was isolation, social distancing, being locked down, quarantined, and all of that, we connected with people who are usually disenfranchised.”
As the COVID–19 pandemic curve seems to flatline in the USA Eastern Territory, more of the responsibility of meeting human need is moving in the direction of Social Services. Initially, Emergency Disaster Services (EDS) personnel responded and dropped off thousands of prepared meals at doorsteps to families throughout the territory. Today, EDS is taking a lesser role as social workers step up to continue the Army’s response in terms of emotional, spiritual, and practical care.
Says Bob Myers, EDS director, “We’re working closely with Social Services to transition from a largely EDS–centric mode of providing food distribution and some sheltering. As we shift gears and start looking toward recovery, we’ll assume a more Social Service–centric operation and that department will take the lead.”
Acquiring new skills, opportunities
Myers says a lot of federal resources are now coming to fruition and are largely being funneled into existing social service programs. “So that would be a natural fit for social service folks to take on. They can pick up the ball on the recovery side and do so for as long as it takes.”
Poleon says that government assistance, whether it’s stimulus checks or unemployment insurance or program grants, will be helpful. “In this time of crisis, financial stability is one of the key issues people are facing. We’ve been talking about financial literacy for a long time and we have a lot of programs that addressed it. During this time, we have an opportunity to do just that.
“We have expertise in this area and can offer it to people in our communities. We have that ability to sit down with them and provide strong case management and discuss finances in a thoughtful and manageable way. We can teach them the skills they need. So, I think we have a lot of opportunities now to do what we’ve been doing but on a larger scale. It’s an opportunity for us all to learn new skills.”
Counting the cost
Salvation Army personnel also need attention after going through such a devastating ordeal as this pandemic. Meeting human need came with a cost, says Myers. “We’ve been burning the candle at both ends so it definitely takes a toll. Stress levels are high. Some of our sites have confirmed COVID cases. That impacts the operations by losing personnel and lowering morale. The fear factor is high. Folks are working longer hours. A couple of divisions are working 6 days per week. So, things like that are in the picture that we’re juggling right now. We’ve reached out to staff and officers and others who are looking for help and assistance.”
Poleon says, “At a time of crisis, people need to share and talk to someone. We need to find those moments to listen to people’s stories. Even in all the busyness, we must take the time to let people unburden their hearts and spirits.”
A great deal of work lies ahead, but Poleon is encouraged by the opportunities to do ministry in new ways. “We have a lot of great platforms now. We have ZOOM and other opportunities we’ve never explored before. We can do seminars and pull in experts at low cost. We are embracing technology such as FaceTime, Facebook Live, chat rooms, and Instagram because that’s where people are going.
“We are used to the traditional way of doing business so much that sometimes we miss seeing new opportunities. The Salvation Army is like a huge battleship that doesn’t turn around easily; it has to go out quite a ways to turn around. But we are fortunate in a lot of ways and I hope we don’t go ‘back to normal.’ I hope we take all the lessons we’ve learned from COVID–19 about interacting with people and use our time in different ways.
The stakes are high
“It’s easier to go back to where we were comfortable,” says Poleon. “So, I think what is required is a conscious effort for leadership on all levels to remain uncomfortable; to challenge everyone, every day. That can be exhausting, but what is at risk is losing the community’s confidence, which is critical.
“I remember one time when I had on a Salvation Army “T” shirt. I was in my neighborhood in the Bronx. A man shuffled up to me and gave me a dollar. He said, ‘Buy a cup of coffee, because in World War II, The Salvation Army was there for me.’ A total stranger sees the Army shield on my shirt and gives me a dollar for a cup of coffee. That’s what we can lose. But you know what? The confidence is the bigger factor. He’ll pass that story on to future generations and draw the millennials and others who want to be a part of this movement.”
by Warren L. Maye