Good Works: Salvation Army serves those in need through pandemic

Mar 23, 2021 | by Christina Knudsen

From the COLLECTION: Good works in our community -- a new column series 

Sometimes life requires change. This past year, our lives have forever changed how we communicate, socially interact and support each other. Yet through the last year and many before, The Salvation Army of La Crosse is ready to change to serve those in need through crisis and disaster.

Since the 1920s, The Salvation Army of La Crosse has been serving the La Crosse community based on the specific obstacles, hardships and challenges that arise. Programs and services are continually being designed to provide immediate relief, meet short-term need and sustain long-term growth to be able to invest back into the community. Working to continually meet needs to individuals in a holistic triad of spiritual, physical and mental services.

COVID has brought creativity and clarity to programs and services. For those experiencing homelessness, the emergency shelter continues to serve in a safe manner 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

In 2020, over 400 men and women called the emergency shelter their home. With the increased numbers of those in need during the pandemic, the shelter housed families at a second off-site location. Allowing children to continue with school through virtual learning opportunities.

Programs and services offered by the case management team needed to grow with the impacts of COVID. Many increased services included: rent assistance, heat share, and thrift store vouchers for clothing/furniture. Case managers assess each client on their needs and work with clients to develop a person-centered case plan focusing on self-sufficiency, income stability, mental and physical health care, and the procurement of permanent, stable housing.

Prior to COVID, The Salvation Army hired a housing specialist who develops contacts with local management companies and landlords. Working towards finding permanent and sustainable housing for residents and other unsheltered in the community. Within a two-month period, Salvation Army staff helped over 27 families secure permanent housing to become neighbors in our community.

Generous donations received at The Salvation Army Thrift Store continue to serve clients. All proceeds from the thrift store go to support clients and the emergency shelter.

After normally feeding the community over 94,000 meals per year, The Salvation Army continues to feed the hungry. Hot and cold meals continue to be served six days per week with extra canned goods and donated meals supporting the hungry. Residents staying at the shelter also receive three hot/cold meals a day with snacks. With the addition of the second off-site shelter, home delivered meals are also served to families as well as the choice to cook a family meal together.

Through the pandemic, partnerships were created to better serve our community within the wellness initiative. Prior to COVID, a community health worker was brought on staff to provide resources for counseling, therapy, transportation and social services, and be a bridge to connect with local resources.

In response to COVID, the community health worker ensures clients are getting enrolled in government aided programs like FoodShare and Medicaid/Medicare, receiving transportation to medical appointments, establishing primary care providers, getting medications refilled, and being educated on the importance of self-care. A recent study from one of our health care partners revealed that services handled in the shelter saved repeated ER visits at a cost of more than $40,000 for one individual. COVID has created opportunities of investment back into our community through partnerships.

The future of The Salvation Army is to continue to serve without discrimination to the most vulnerable and always be there to support. Through the caring eyes of the staff, local partner agencies, organizations, volunteers, donors, and the community; we will together be ready for change and do the most good!

We are proud to partner with Great Rivers United Way and The La Crosse Community Foundation to share our story with the La Crosse Community. Our special thanks to the La Crosse Tribune for publishing this article. 

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