Unprecedented Need – and Unprecedented Generosity

Apr 17, 2020

We received this sobering, yet encouraging update from Major Angie Pennington at the DeKalb Salvation Army Corps Community Center. While the requests for help in her community are off the charts, she’s also seeing some good come from this season of crisis.

Since the stay-at-home orders have been in place, all programs have ceased at the DeKalb Salvation Army Corps Community Center, with the exception of social services. Our food pantry is the largest in our community, and we have seen a 30% increase in food requests since the coronavirus outbreak. We converted our pantry to a drive-thru model with prepacked boxes, and clients are now able to access the pantry weekly instead of monthly.

Our staff have been phenomenal at continuing to find food resources, ensuring that each weekly box is substantial and includes fresh produce, dairy, meat, canned goods, hygiene products, and toilet paper. All of our regular volunteers are in their 70s and 80s, at risk, and unable to manage the lifting and packing involved in this work. As a result, Erin, our caseworker/volunteer coordinator, has recruited a new slate of volunteers, many of whom are off work due to COVID-19. These volunteers are younger, able-bodied, and now being educated on the clientele we serve through the pantry, even as we all wear gloves and masks and stand six feet apart.

Despite the chaotic times we are in, this has been a good opportunity to get more people involved in the mission of The Salvation Army. So many great connections have been made through this influx of new volunteers at the pantry. The DeKalb Township granted us $5,000 to purchase food and supplies for the pantry during this time as well.

Additionally, our emergency assistance office has remained open, offering funds for rent and utility payments to prevent families from becoming homeless. We are the only agency in town that provides rental assistance, so we receive referrals from other community agencies even though we don’t receive community support (pre-COVID, we would receive about 200 referrals per month). I have been spreading the word for nine months about the need for others to provide resources to us if the community expects us to provide for all these needs. Since COVID-19, we have seen a 60% increase in requests for emergency assistance. Our budget is a mere $1,000 a week, and requests each week total $20,000 - $30,000.

I received a call about 10 days ago from the chairman of the board of the DeKalb County Community Foundation asking what we are doing and how they can help. He mentioned by name our "homelessness prevention program." He was referred to me by an Advisory Board member who is the housing authority director. Three days later they sent a grant request application. I asked for money for direct assistance. Two days later, Good Friday, we were awarded $12,500, and the check arrived in the mail Monday morning.

Tuesday I received an email from the executive director of IDEAL Industries Foundation (a major player in our community) who said she sat on the committee who reviewed my grant request from the community foundation and wanted to match it. Today that check arrived. I also received an email today from Northern Illinois Federal Credit Union saying they heard about our homelessness prevention program and want more information so that they can apply to their foundation for a grant to give to us as well. There has also been a drastic increase in checks arriving in the mail every day, all with notes attached thanking us for our food pantry and rental assistance/homelessness prevention program. There is definitely an Army buzz in the community at the moment!

I am moved by the community response to help families during this crisis. All of these funds are providing food and preventing homelessness for families. Also, I am excited to see the Army grow in community presence and resource. We are now seated at the table, we are on the team. That's a great thing as we seek to Do the Most Good in DeKalb!

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.

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