Preaching a message of hope

To most people, they’re known simply as the “Elks Lodge.”

However, the official name of the national fraternal organization is the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks. The Vineland Elks Lodge 1422 in Vineland, N.J., recently lived up to that name by helping protect the clients of the local Salvation Army with donations totaling $1,500.

Joseph Romano, president of the 140-member Vineland Elks, presented a $1,000 donation to the corps made possible by an Elks National Foundation Gratitude Grant. The Vineland Elks also presented a $500 donation from a Christmas party fund-raiser.

“We’re very aware of what they do for our community and how well they run their food pantry,” Romano said of The Salvation Army. “I’ve always gotten positive feedback about that organization.

Romano said he was confident the money would be “put to good use” at The Salvation Army.

Majors Jacqueline and Moises Rivera, Vineland, N.J., corps officers, have indeed been putting all donations to good use. Major Moises explained that the Elks donation came at a crucial time of the year, especially when kettle donations, due to COVID-19, were down some 50 percent. The money went to “feeding children” and Christmas toys.


Helping the hurting

Since COVID-19 changed the world in March 2020, the Vineland Corps went from distributing 4,160 boxes of food a year to 71,887. The number of meals increased from 36,400 a year to an astounding 629,144.

“We’ve been extremely busy,” said Major Moises. “The people in the community have heard our story. They have seen the lines of vehicles wrapped around a few blocks to get a box of food. The community is keenly aware that The Salvation Army is ‘Doing The Most Good’.”

Meanwhile, at Christmas, the corps distributed 4,896 toys to 1,632 children.

“We see the need, particularly with food,” Major Moises said. “People are struggling and trying to make a decision about paying the bills or putting food on the table. At least we can do our little part to try and alleviate some of those decisions and help out with Christmas.”

Anecdotes from the Christmas season are heartbreaking.

On Christmas Eve, the Riveras were at a Walmart when they overheard a mother and her children wondering how they would afford Christmas. Major Moises told the family to pick out three gifts for each child and The Salvation Army would pay.

“Certainly opportunity for social service work is ongoing and sometimes takes place in the most unconventional of places,” Major Moises said. With donated funds and forms readily at hand, the family received the help needed for a good Christmas—a miracle Christmas.

In another instance, the corps helped the family of Luz and Angel Rivera. Luz, a mother of six ranging from 3 to 24 years of age, died of breast cancer leaving her husband to care for the children.

Major Moises said such stories of heartbreak and desperation are common these days.

“People who we don’t normally see are coming for assistance,” he said. “They are now faced with walking through the line and some of them are embarrassed to do so. They sometimes want to give a little bit back and give a little offering of $1 or $2. For some people, that’s all they can give.”


Local corps honored

Local leaders have also taken notice of The Salvation Army’s work during COVID-19. Vineland Mayor Anthony Fanucci and the Vineland City Council recently recognized the work of The Salvation Army for “Doing The Most Good.”

While COVID-19 continues to rage, the ministry work of the corps goes on, Major Moises said.

Some families in the corps have lost loved ones to the virus; others have been afflicted and have recovered, including a kettle worker and another member who spent a month in the hospital.

Major Moises also spoke of COVID-19’s “secondary elements” such as the woman who overdosed on drugs because she couldn’t cope with being constantly locked down. When she was at the corps, she had human contact and was busy, active, and happy.

“We’ve had a lot of prayer time with people and a lot of one-on-one,” he said. “We stay in contact through Facebook and phone calls.”


Built-in church

Major Moises said the corps, which features a diverse group of nationalities, is holding in-person holiness meetings on Sundays, but other ministries are canceled. For example, men’s and women’s ministries are essentially limited to the employees and volunteers of the corps.

“Our employees and volunteers became our extended church,” he said. “Our women’s and men’s ministries just looks different. We’re doing it during the day. My wife meets with the women and I meet with the men.”

Major Moises said he tells his congregation to join the officers, elders, and each other for spiritual encouragement. Sometimes you can do something as simple as share Bible verses with others who can’t make it to church.

“I don’t know how long this pandemic is going to last, but I suspect that by the year 2022, we will begin to see some sort of normalcy, in my opinion,” he said. “Because COVID-19 is still lingering. I tell my people, ‘Just be careful, do a lot of hand washing, and send a message of hope to everyone you encounter.’

“We say to our congregation that, even though it’s a time of COVID-19, it should not stop us from doing ministry. We can still send a message of hope that God heals and provides.”

by Robert Mitchell

The Vineland, N.J., Corps is looking for help. To donate, send a check made payable to “Salvation Army Vineland” and mail to: P.O. Box 354, Vineland, NJ 08362 or donate online.