Seeing Hope in a Neighborhood Marked by Poverty, Violence, and the Pandemic
Cadet Karen Felton of the Midwest Salvation Army Corps Community Center recently sent us this update on how the coronavirus has affected their neighborhood and how she’s seeing hope in these difficult times.
The Midwest Corps Community Center sits on a corner surrounded by empty lots in Chicago’s West side. These lots hold the ghosts of the low-income high rises that used to tower over our building. While the landscape has changed, the poverty and needs have not. We have been working hard to serve our neighbors in need during this time of COVID-19.
This virus has affected our community in many ways. The homeless individuals who reside in tent cities all around us are used to having many people come help them daily. Many groups have shut down these programs due to risks to their workers.
Families using our after-school programs do not have the resources to meet the expectations of the Chicago Public School system. Many do not have internet access, and many just do not have the education themselves to navigate teaching their children at home. They are also not used providing breakfast and lunch every day to their children, as children usually receive these meals at school. This has put a huge strain on these struggling families.
The elderly who live in high rises near us are without the people who usually come and drive them on their errands and help in other ways. Those assistants face the loss of income. Many of our clients and church members who can work do so in high-risk environments like nursing homes, and some have contracted the virus. Those not working face frustrations trying to navigate unemployment.
Suffice it to say, our neighborhood, which has a high percentage of generational poverty, marginalization, and violence, has been hit very hard. However, amidst it all there is so much hope.
One of our newer staff members has been so intentional about reaching out to our after-school families with support and encouragement. Since the first week of school being out, every week he has delivered boxes filled with groceries, notes of encouragement, and activities for the kids and families. He has also been busy planning a way to bridge the gap in the kids’ education, as many parents admit that their kids are not getting their schoolwork done at home. We are planning ways to help them get caught up over the summer.
Our maintenance man has organized our very busy food pantry. We have seen him shine God’s love to the people in our neighborhood, and we have seen his deep passion to meet the needs of our community. He listens to what the people need and helps us find ways to meet those needs. This wonderful man, whose job is to care for our building, has shown me the love of Jesus.
Several people in our neighborhood battle homelessness and schizophrenia, and I have worked slowly over the past months and even years to build their trust. Ever since my doctor grounded me to home because I am considered high risk, my heart has been sick over not being there to provide for them. One man in particular will not take help from anyone but me. Other staff members stop by his tent to try to bring him food, and he refuses it. Finally, one of our maintenance guys had the idea to use FaceTime. When our staff member approached the tent, he showed the man his phone and let him see my face. I explained that I am not allowed to leave my house, but that I missed him and want him cared for, and to please take the food. He agreed to this, and so now they bring him coffee, a hot meal, and various items daily.
While confined to our home, I’ve found creative ways to minister and help. My husband brought home items so I can create COVID-19 survival kits that include notes of love and prayer for our community. We have both spent lots of time on the phone with members of our congregation, listening to their concerns and praying for them. This time has been a blessing as we have gotten to know our community on a deeper level.
My very favorite thing has been adopting a “real mail” ministry. Each week I send 50 handmade cards to people in our church community and to clients, staff, and fellow officers. It has blessed me to write the cards and pray for each person as I write.
God has truly shown me that we are a church no matter where we are, and no matter what limitations are placed on us. It has reminded me that prayer and intercession are the front lines, so even from home we are all called to be frontline workers for the Kingdom. It has shown me that no pandemic, no governor’s order, no social distancing, nothing can change that the Army is on the move and will always be on the move. William Booth once said, “I am not waiting on a move of God; I am a move of God.” I am so blessed to see that spirit alive at the Midwest Corps Community Center and in the Metropolitan Division as a whole.
Learn about all the ways The Salvation Army is responding to the coronavirus – as well as how you can help – at salarmychicago.org/coronavirus.
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For tax purposes: The Salvation Army Metropolitan Division EIN is 36-2167910.