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Pastoring during COVID–19

It’s about more than food

The Salvation Army in Spring Valley, N.Y., saw a massive turnout for its May 7 food giveaway, as cars clogged the streets and some families were too late for the COVID–19 relief event.

“We served 646 families in just an hour and 15 minutes,” said Major Tom Hinzman, who leads the corps in Spring Valley along with his wife, Major Susan Hinzman. “It went so fast. We had hundreds of people lined up on foot and probably hundreds of cars lined up down the backstreets behind The Salvation Army.”

Major Tom said police finally doubled up the cars to get them off of state Route 45 faster.

“I was amazed at how many people were still in line and still arriving throughout the afternoon looking for food and we just didn’t have anything left to give them,” he said. “I think that’s the heartbreaking part of the story. For every family we were able to help, there was probably another family that couldn’t be helped.”

Spring Valley, home to many low–income residents, has been hit hard by COVID–19.

On May 9, food boxes were delivered to another 200 families with the help of Proyecto Faro, an organization that supports immigrants in Rockland County, and Church of the Kingdom, an evangelical Christian church based in Brazil. That brought the total to 846 for the week.

Major Tom said the corps was providing 3,500 pounds of food a month prior to the outbreak, but the May 7 event distributed 24,000 pounds in one day. He hopes the Northeast Regional Food Bank can provide more food in the future.

Besides food, the corps has had to find creative ways to continue its primary mission.

Just one example was an effort to provide Mother’s Day cards and packets of flower seeds to the women of the corps “since we can’t give them a flower in person,” Major Tom said.

Meanwhile, weekly Bible studies, Sunday school and worship are all being done via Zoom in three languages, Haitian, Spanish, and English.

“We’re doing as many programs as we can on Zoom,” Major Tom said. “We’ve continued to reach out to all of our people with electronic programs.”

The Sunday service is only seven to eight minutes “and we encourage people to attend the territorial service provided,” Major Tom said. “We have been so blessed by the efforts of our Territorial Headquarters. We truly believe the Sunday services have connected us throughout the territory in these strange and uncertain days.

“We try to give a heartfelt message every week,” Major Tom continued. “Most of our people are saying they’re watching more church on Sunday now than they ever did.”

Major Tom said the first Sunday service on Facebook drew about 4,000 views. He often tags several government and community Facebook pages to draw a larger audience. Some people have sent in money and mentioned that they saw the videos.

“It’s amazing how many people who we’ve never heard of or seen before are watching the video and are responding,” he said. “We’re hoping that will open the eyes of the people to what the Army is doing and just help people feel more connected to what’s available and what’s being done at the corps.”

Major Susan said being a pastor during COVID–19 is not easy because everyone feels “disconnected,” but the response to the social media broadcasts has been encouraging.

“We’ve had people calling us saying ‘How can I help?’ because of that,” she said.

Major Tom also took the opportunity to write letters to almost 1,200 donors to remind them that the corps is there for the community and to pray for everyone—including the donors themselves.

“We didn’t ask for any money,” he said. “We just told them we appreciate all the years of support that they’ve given to us and we wanted to let them know we’re here for them. We’ve gotten several cards back from donors thanking us. Other donors have sent back letters with checks.”

Major Tom said it sometimes takes years for new officers to make connections in a new community. The Hinzmans, who arrived in Spring Valley last year from Lexington, Ky., said COVID–19 has “sped up the process.”

“It has forced us to have those meetings and those one–on–ones and really get to know people,” he said. “I think that’s good for us It’s good for the Army. It certainly is a blessing for us that we have that support around us, and we can take that support and share it with others who are in need.”

by Robert Mitchell