During the COVID-19 pandemic, many people have turned to the Salvation Army for help for the first time.
One year after the first cases of the virus were diagnosed in the area, the charity continues to respond to those who have suffered financially.
The Salvation Army National Capital Area Command is highly dependent on volunteers, but was forced to suspend all in-person volunteering once the pandemic began.
“Many of our volunteers could not put themselves at risk,” said Maj. Donald Wilson, the officer in charge of the Salvation Army Fairfax Corps.
At the same time, the number of people coming to them for help shot up significantly.
In 2020, the National Capital Area Command saw a 125% increase in the number of food boxes served to those in need, compared to the year before.
In response, the Salvation Army Arlington Corps has gone from distributing food every two weeks, to handing it out every Thursday. The number of families showing up to receive the food is three times what it used to be.
Wilson said he saw the need grow exponentially in Fairfax as well. “It’s almost like a tornado came and destroyed all their finances in just a matter of a day or so,” he said.
“The sense of despair, it got a grip in their hearts. They couldn’t see an end in sight,” Wilson said. “And every time they thought that something would be happening by August, September, October, the date kept being pushed further and further away.”
Wilson said the crisis “brought a lot of despair in the lives of children, particularly. Adults seemed to handle it a little bit more, but children, they seemed to deal with it a lot worse, and that bothered me a great deal personally.”
“At one point, we had 800 cars in line to pick up food,” Wilson said, adding that the human interaction was crucial as well. “We had to wear masks, so they could tell we were smiling with our eyes, but we believe that’s just as important as providing them bread.”
How did they meet the added need?
“Well, we pray a lot for one thing, and really it’s a great coordination and cooperation with neighbors in every community,” said Wilson.
Despite the pandemic, donations increased significantly. Nationwide, the Salvation Army raised more than $557 million during the 2020 holiday season, a 27% increase over 2019. Other types of donations overwhelmed collection centers.
Wilson said the challenges of the pandemic have taken a toll on people like him.
“We’re tired. A lot of people are very tired, but we think that we’ll have the ability to keep going,” Wilson said. “If there is a need, we’re going to do the best that we can to keep going.”
Learn how to donate with the Salvation Army on their website.
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