Magazine Features

More Than a Sandwich
Emergency Disaster Services offers long–term recovery

The 2018 Atlantic hurricane season was the third in a consecutive series of above–average and damaging seasons, featuring 15 named storms, and 8 hurricanes, including Florence and Michael, both of which were Category 5. Overall, they caused as much as $50 billion in damages and cost many people their lives.

This year, a record number of tornadoes have swept across the country, many of which have touched down in the Eastern Territory. “I think our work is going to increase,” said Tameka Sharp, an Emergency Disaster Services (EDS) logistics officer at the Salvation Army’s National Headquarters (NHQ).

“The good thing is that a lot of people are starting to pay attention now to the frequency of the floods and tornadoes. Prior to this year, only the hurricanes or the wildfires were making the big news. But now, the floods and tornadoes are making news, I think because they are happening so frequently. For example, this month, we’ve had more than 90 tornadoes,” she said.

The Salvation Army’s response to such emergencies is complex. Gone are the days when mobile feeding unit (canteen) personnel would simply give out sandwiches and cups of hot chocolate to first responders and survivors. Today, the Army offers an array of services that cover the full scope of needs, be they practical, emotional or spiritual.

Said Michael Orfitelli, former EDS director for the Eastern Territory, “Even when you go back to WW2, you see what the Army lassies did was more than just dunk donuts, they also read letters from home to the soldiers. While in a horrible place, they offered a soft touch during a hard and difficult time.”

Emotional & Spiritual Care

“When you go back through any of the disasters, you see that there has always been this compassion for people that has set the Army apart from other agencies that may have had more people on site, more equipment, and other resources,” Orfitelli said. “It’s really not just about what we do; it’s about who we are in the process.

“We try to infuse and synthesize emotional and spiritual care into everything that we do. We’re not a drive–by service. We’re also someone to talk to, someone who gets it, someone who cares. So that has been my focus for the past 16 years,” he said. Well documented is the fact that, after other agencies and the media are gone, The Salvation Army typically stays on site for the long haul.

Indeed, Emotional and Spiritual Care, one of the seven core services of EDS (see sidebar), is a ministry component that people such as Orfitelli and Sharp have cultivated in their professional and personal lives. In 2012, with the events of 9/11 still in his psyche, Orfitelli, who was a music teacher in public schools and a communications refurbishing company owner, also became the Eastern Territory’s emergency disaster coordinator with an interest in curriculum development.

“Major Charles Dietrick had asked me to oversee three warehouses during 9/11. Afterwards, he asked me to consider working for the Army,” Orfitelli remembers.

As a teen, he had driven his dad’s ice cream trucks and had become uniquely familiar with their operation. Many years later, and after seeing a 1964 Boyer truck as a Salvation Army canteen, his instincts kicked in. “I was drawn to the work, so I agreed.”

Orfitelli, along with colleagues from the Salvation Army’s southern, central, and western territories, developed a national plan. “We spent more than a year together,” remembers Orfitelli. “A National Vision for A Local Effort” became their motto as they organized a curriculum for the Army, which was initially funded by the Lilly Foundation.

“No doubt, Emotional and Spiritual Care (ESC) is one of our seven core services,” said Sharp. “We’re not just handing out water or food, we also tend to the emotional and spiritual aspects of a survivor. Being able to have workers out in the field praying with and speaking to people is sometimes more valuable than a plate of food.

“This is not just an add on, it’s a core service. A lot of times, we have ESC workers in the canteens, so they are out in the community being a presence. They hug and speak with people. It really pays big dividends. We’re also trying to develop a cadre of more deployable ESC Strike Teams.”

A ministry of presence

A ministry of presence is Chris Farrand’s EDS focus. As a seminary graduate and mental health professional, his experience in working with people who have suffered mental illness, trauma, and loss has taught him valuable lessons. “Sometimes, there’s almost nothing else between this person and their grief or hurt except me,” he said. “Frequently, I’m in a role where I’m put into incredibly terrible situations, and yet I can be the presence and comfort of God and bring hope in a way that changes lives; just being there can be life transforming.”

Farrand’s journey to EDS began with a dream to fly planes. “I’d gone to Moody Bible Institute for my undergrad and I was studying to be a missionary pilot. I was in their missionary aviation program. While I was there studying to fly, I got my first exposure to studying the Bible and I realized I wanted to be someone who taught the Bible instead of someone who flew people around who taught the Bible,” he said.

“I wanted to get a master’s of divinity degree. So, I came to Gordon–Conwell in Massachusetts and finished my masters. I did clinical guidance chaplaincy work at Beverly Hospital and really learned a ton about the ministry of presence.”

He later met a Salvation Army volunteer who opened his eyes to the possibilities of serving people in the midst of disaster. “There was a woman at my church who was volunteering for The Salvation Army and she was in the Disaster Services Program,” said Farrand. “She shared a story about how she deployed to Utah to help in a mining disaster to provide emotional and spiritual care.”

Bob Myers, the new EDS director for the Eastern Territory, said, “Ministry is a core mission of what we do as The Salvation Army. We have brought our emotional and spiritual care to the forefront and made it a focal point,” said Myers. “We’ve gone from having officers who were thrust into it, to having a highly skilled, highly trained staff that is considered by the community to be a critical piece of crisis counseling. We view our work as a ministry rather than just as a service.”

Sharp grew up playing basketball in a Salvation Army gymnasium in Tupelo, Miss. “So, I was familiar with the organization, and I knew that its credibility is amazing, and its integrity is awesome, and being able to merge my profession with the faith aspect was really a wonderful opportunity,” she said.

“In Tupelo, I was young, and faith hadn’t really been the center of my life, even though everyone went to church. But after moving to New York, I committed to be Christian in word and in deed—to live it out.” Sharp, who had become a member of the Times Square Church, continued, “Once Christianity became a priority, I was happy to bring EDS alongside of it. That bond was important. I believe it’s not just work, but it is also ministry. Marrying those two became a win/win!”

Blue Skies

A familiar adage says, “fix your roof when the sun is shining.” That advice undergirds much of the work EDS professionals do between disaster events. “There’s a misnomer that says when disasters are not happening, there isn’t much to do,” said Myers. “The truth is quite the contrary. Some of the most fruitful, tedious, and challenging work we do isn’t during the Grey–Sky times when disasters are happening, it’s during the Blue–Sky times.”

Debriefing, training, preparing, as well as building relationships, systems, and protocols, keep EDS workers busy. Sharp added, “We host the Disaster Services Committee (DSC) once a year, which happens during the first week of December. That’s when we bring all the four coordinators to NHQ as well as representatives from the Adult Rehabilitation Centers Command (ARCC), the Salvation Army World Services Organization (SAWSO), and social services. We talk about national policies and partnerships and ways to create a national minute or policy or partnership.”

Training for the worst

Training volunteers is particularly important. Doing so encourages their retention and increases their effectiveness. For example, the need for such trained emotional and spiritual care workers was what brought Farrand to EDS in the first place. “During 9/11 in Massachusetts, we tried to send our Salvation Army officers to Logan Airport to help with the crisis,” said Farrand. “But they were turned away because certain roles required an understanding or training. We needed to hire someone who could help us build our emotional spiritual care program in Massachusetts, so we wouldn’t get rejected again.”

Sharp, who came to EDS two years ago after having worked in the healthcare industry, says training volunteers and encouraging donors is a big part of Blue Skies. “We’ve had a very busy two years, with the 2017 Hurricane season, 2018, and 2019 with all the flooding.

“My concern is that donor fatigue will become a factor. Future efforts will require more volunteers and more partnership support. So hopefully, other individuals and corporations will step up and donor fatigue will not stop our ability to garner the resources to help survivors.”

The forecast

As the territorial EDS director, Myers works with the 11 divisions. “We are the emergency management wing of The Salvation Army,” said the son of an EDS director in Pennsylvania. “So, what we do includes preparedness, response, and recovery. We focus on strategy at the territorial level; we focus on the big picture. Whereas on the divisional level they’re more ‘boots on the ground’ focused, executing day–to–day goals.”

Myers said his 17 years of experience with his boots on the ground gives him a relevant perspective. “At THQ, we ask, ‘how do we support the divisions?’ ‘How do we grow the program?’ ‘How do we continue to engage our partners on a regional and national basis?’ It’s the same type of work, just a different perspective on it.”

Myers measures growth in terms of program development, effective collaboration, added equipment, and more hands–on–deck. In reflecting on his previous work in EDS, he said, “We started as a staff of one; when I left, we had seven of us on staff. We positioned ourselves as a resource both territorially and nationally. We tried to be forward thinking in putting plans on paper and engaging the community, as well as building relationships with the corps, the division, and the neighboring divisions. We also built relationships with government, nonprofit, and profit partners.

Aims for the future? “Not to rest on our laurels, but continue to grow to meet the needs of survivors of disasters with personnel who are trained and vetted for service,” said Myers. “I want us to become a leading–edge provider in the EDS world.”

by Warren L. Maye

Seven Services

The Salvation Army Disaster relief efforts focus on seven core services. These services may be modified based on the magnitude of the disaster and adapted to meet the specific needs of individual survivors.


In partnership with other agencies, the Salvation Army’s disaster training program offers a variety of courses designed to help individuals and communities prepare for emergency events and become trained disaster volunteers.

Food service

When a disaster strikes, one of the first signs that help is on the way is often the arrival of a Salvation Army mobile feeding unit that offers meals, snacks, and drinks, to rescue workers and survivors.

Emotional and spiritual care

Motivated by Christian faith, The Salvation Army deploys specially trained individuals to offer emotional and spiritual care to rescue workers and disaster survivors.

Emergency communications

The Salvation Army Team Emergency Radio Network (SATERN) includes a worldwide network of volunteer amateur radio operators and other communications specialists, who may be mobilized to transmit emergency information during a disaster event.

Disaster social services

After a family has lost everything in a disaster, The Salvation Army is there to provide emergency assistance to help meet survivors’ most urgent needs for food, clothing, shelter, and medical services.

Donations management

The Salvation Army is one of the nation’s leaders in responsibly collecting, sorting, and distributing donated goods. The Salvation Army encourages cash donations as the best and most flexible way to help and solicits only those in–kind donations which can be effectively received and efficiently distributed.


The Salvation Army supports long–term disaster recovery operations with flexible programming that is adaptable to the unique needs of individual communities.

Milestone Events in EDS history

1900 Galveston Hurricane launches the Salvation Army’s formal response to the need for disaster services.

1900 San Francisco earthquake

1914–18 WW1 The Salvation Army donut girls

1939–45 WW2 The Salvation Army donut girls

1960–70 hurricane and tornado responses

1970 Jonestown, Pa., flood response; a major undertaking for the USA Eastern Territory

1992 Hurricane Andrew The Salvation Army’s ARC truck convoy transports supplies from the Manhattan ARC to Stewart AFB.

1995 Oklahoma City bombing

2001 9/11 terrorist attacks on NYC, Washington, DC, and Pennsylvania

2005 Hurricane Katrina Salvation Army sends teams to New Orleans, Louisiana.

2011 multiple flooding events in the Eastern Territory

2012 Hurricane Sandy

2017 Hurricanes Harvey and Maria

2018 Above average Atlantic hurricanes (8), including Florence and Michael (C5)