How the St. Charles Salvation Army Corps Is Keeping Up with the Needs Created by COVID-19

Aug 14, 2020

COVID-19 has changed everything. Just ask Lieutenant Dena Smith of The Salvation Army St. Charles (Tri City) Corps Community Center. She and her staff run a fresh food pantry every weekday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. “Before the coronavirus, we gave out an average of 4,000 items a month,” Lieutenant Dena said. “That’s jumped to 14,000 items a month.”

This huge increase in demand is one of several reasons they scheduled a food drive tomorrow at their corps – 1710 S. 7th Avenue in St. Charles – from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Staff and volunteers will gather items from peoples’ cars, allowing for a quick, contactless process. Lieutenant Dena mentioned they always run short on jelly, dry goods such as instant mashed potatoes or dry pasta, and diapers, especially sizes 4, 5, and 6. (See full list of requested items below.)

Another motivator for their food drive is their concern for neighbors in need like Diane, a 62-year-old who has worked two jobs for the past 11 years. Both of her jobs – in retail and as a food sample distributor at Costco – were eliminated due to COVID-19. Her husband, also 62, worked at a local school until his underlying health issues made that unwise. Diane hasn’t earned a paycheck since April 5, her husband since March 13. That’s dire for a couple previously living paycheck to paycheck.

Diane searched the internet for local sources of help, which led her to The Salvation Army. When she met with Lieutenant Dena, she told her, “I live five blocks from you and I didn’t know what you did.” Thankfully, that’s changed. Diane met with a caseworker at the corps, who provided rent and utility assistance for the couple. She also told them about the corps’ two different food pantries, the weekday produce pantry and another available by appointment.

“It was crazy to come here and see everything that’s available,” Diane said when she visited the fresh food pantry. That “everything” includes breads, produce, dairy, and meat. In addition to items supplied through partnerships with local grocery stores and the Northern Illinois Food Bank, the park district brings the yield from their garden, as do local residents who have bumper crops of tomatoes, zucchini, and the like.

Diane said the assistance lifted the incredible burden off her back. She called the pantry a lifesaver, the Army a place the breathe. “Do you know how exciting it was to have dessert?” she asked Lieutenant Dena. After months of buying just the basics, just enough to stave off hunger, she found the extra variety and volume meaningful.

“Unfortunately, Diane’s story is not unique,” Lieutenant Dena said. Diane and her husband used to be the givers, and now they are the ones needing help, a switch that many are navigating due to COVID-19.

Lieutenant Dena connected with another client on a Facebook site about freebies in their area. A woman asked where she could get dry goods for her family, and Lieutenant Dena messaged her about their pantry. “She has a job,” Lieutenant Dena said. “She wasn’t asking for extravagant things. She’d never utilized our services before. But this is reflective of our economy and where we are right now.”

Last year, 760 families signed up for help through the St. Charles corps’ food pantry. Just through August, 646 families have signed up so far this year. Lieutenant Dena points out that a majority of the families who signed up last year did so at Christmas time, a season they haven’t even begun to navigate.

Wanting to be prepared for this surge, the corps is seeking help from the community. There is good reason to hope in their response. A few residents have hosted food drives in their neighborhoods, going door to door to collect impressive amounts of food for the Army. Area churches have been generous as well, hosting successful food drives for the Army. Lieutenant Dena is hoping for the same success tomorrow.

“Everyday people who have compassion for the Army and the needs of our community fill in the gap for us and keep us as one of the best food pantries in our area,” she said. “Every time someone comes to our pantry, they leave with three or four bags of groceries filled with meat, toiletries, and staple goods. We want to be able to maintain at this level.” 

The Salvation Army St. Charles (Tri City) Corps Community Center food drive is Saturday, August 15, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the corps building, 1710 S. 7th Avenue in St. Charles. A table will be set up in the parking lot to accept donations, and volunteers will be on hand to remove donated items from your car. Items requested include: diapers/pull-ups (especially sizes 4, 5, and 6), baby wipes, shampoo/conditioner, toothpaste, deodorant, soap, maxi pads and tampons, adult Depends, laundry soap, dish soap, paper towels, Kleenex, canned ravioli and Spaghetti-o’s, canned fruit, canned tuna or chicken, canned beans or vegetables, condiments (mustard, mayo, ketchup, etc.), jelly, peanut butter, pancake mix, syrup, cereal, baking staples (flour, sugar, etc.), coffee/tea, pasta, pasta sauce, macaroni and cheese, stuffing/instant mashed potatoes, brown paper grocery bags.

Learn about all the ways The Salvation Army is responding to the coronavirus – as well as how you can help – at

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For tax purposes: The Salvation Army Metropolitan Division EIN is 36-2167910.

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