By Evangeline Paschal, Chair
Regional Advisory Board
The Salvation Army National Capital Area Command
The COVID-19 pandemic has resurrected interest in the 1918 worldwide influenza outbreak, which until a few weeks ago had been relegated to a dusty corner of history. Now, thanks to the preservative powers of the internet, a trove of information about community responses to the “Spanish flu” can provide some useful insights into the humanitarian aspects of this latest respiratory pandemic. In 1918, a host of charitable and civic organizations mobilized to provide both hands-on nursing aid and daily succor to communities across the country. Most of these organizations have long since receded from public consciousness. Yet one name remains recognizable across our country: The Salvation Army.
These historic news reports show that the Salvation Army is no newcomer to the sudden dislocations caused by an epic health crisis. Nor was the 1918 Spanish flu the first large-scale U.S. disaster that beckoned its response. The Salvation Army launched national appeals for financial and material support in response to both the 1900 Great Storm (to-date the largest natural disaster in the U.S., killing an estimated 8,000) and the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, providing relief to thousands. More recently, the Salvation Army was one of the first relief agencies on the scene in New York on September 11, 2001. Over a century’s experience mobilizing disaster relief services makes the Salvation Army well-positioned to respond to the immediate crisis conditions in COVID-19 hotspots across the country.
The Salvation Army couples its disaster relief services with its longstanding commitment to helping the most vulnerable among us on a daily basis. As an international organization with a national home office, localized commands providing a variety of social services, and individual corps (or churches) serving neighborhoods across the country, the Salvation Army’s reach is broad. Its structure allows both national coordination and localized mobilization, enabling local commands and neighborhood corps to tailor their responses to serve the most pressing needs of the local community. In the D.C. metropolitan region, for example, the Salvation Army continues to serve meals every night on downtown D.C. streets from its Grate Patrol mobile feeding truck, is providing short-term financial assistance for rent and utilities to those under mounting financial stress, hosts emergency shelter services for the homeless population, and is distributing emergency packages of food and sanitizing products. At the same time, through its Turning Point supported, independent housing program in D.C., it continues to provide a safe and healthy living environment and supportive training programs for young single mothers and their children.
The Salvation Army certainly is not alone in responding to the seismic disruption caused by COVID-19. It is working shoulder to shoulder with other area organizations to meet the financial and physical needs of our communities, and it will take all of us coming together to weather this storm. With COVID-19 cases growing exponentially and financial security plummeting, now is the time to set aside modish notions of what should constitute a charitable cause and focus on alleviating the hardships cropping up around us. But since its founding in 1865, the Salvation Army has also offered something beyond material comfort: spiritual support. The current situation threatens not only our physical and financial well-being but also our collective psyche. In a time of fear and uncertainty, having someone pray with you and for you, regardless of your life-situation or personal beliefs, can bring some measure of peace and emotional healing. As this season of uncertainty continues, many of us turn our thoughts to another time when the world did not seem as dark and uncertain. Yet the gospels teach that that darkness was temporary. In fulfilling its mission of “doing the most good,” the Salvation Army is working to bring a measure of light and hope to our community.