The Salvation Army’s services depend on volunteers to make them happen.
“We couldn’t do it without volunteers,” said Lt. Violet Hopkins standing in the Lighthouse Community Kitchen while volunteers hand out meals. “They are a big part of what we are doing.”
Over 200 volunteers help the Salvation Army deliver services to people in need through its Lighthouse Kitchen, Thrift Store, the Christmas Kettle and many other programs. Their work is appreciated and put to good use.
“We utilize all our 200 volunteers,” Lt. Hopkins said.
But like everything else in society, the COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact. It basically brought operations to a standstill and the Salvation Army’s whole ministry felt the impact.
“We serve a lot of people,” said Karen Floor the Ocean Crest Ministry’s volunteer coordinator. “We have volunteers who help with the clothing, with the food bank, with serving meals, with helping in the kitchen.”
When COVID-19 happened, they shut everything down.
“We had to,” Floor said. “So, the volunteers were not needed.”
The Thrift Store on Homewood Road closed its doors for three months.
The Lighthouse Community Kitchen did continue serving people through the door but it was prepared by staff members and not volunteers. The food would be prepared but because they couldn’t let people into the Lighthouse Community Kitchen, the food would be handed out to them.
“So that eliminated a lot of need, I suppose, for volunteers at that time,” Floor said.
The community kitchen is serving food once again around noon but is making use of just a few volunteers.
“We recently opened up again. And so we have been having volunteers back. Just a couple during the lunch time to help serve and clean up. But it is really limited right now,” Floor said.
There is no sit-down service of the food at this time in order to minimize the risk of spreading COVID-19. The food is handed out the door and people eat outside.
Volunteer recruitment has been hit by the pandemic but as the organization gears up, they are actively looking for more volunteers. With the break in service brought about by the pandemic, a percentage of their volunteers opted to not come back. Many of their volunteers are older and the risk of infection is higher when working in groups and so that prompted older volunteers to step back. But there is still lots of work to do.
“So, yes, we’re always looking for new volunteers,” Floor said.
Thankfully, Salvation Army did find that, although a portion of their older volunteers didn’t come back, a number of younger people have signed up to help.
If you want to volunteer, visit the Ocean Crest Community Church office 291 McLean St. and fill out an application form. Then a criminal record check will be conducted and when it comes back you can sit down and talk about where you might fit with the organization.
Jobs include serving and cleaning up at the Lighthouse where most of the work currently involves serving the meals and watching the doors. The door person is kind of a new position brought about by COVID-19. People can’t come into the community kitchen so the doors are monitored. At the Thrift Store, only 20 people are allowed into the store at one time, so someone has to monitor the door and allow new customers to come in as earlier ones exit.
Jobs at the Thrift Store include intaking donated merchandise and bagging and pricing goods. Of course, sanitizing and going through all the protocols around making everything safe creates a lot of extra work.
While services and jobs gear up, the one thing that can’t at this time and which will be sorely missed, is the human element.
At the Lighthouse, there was more than just meals available. Volunteers still provide a “listening ear” because there are a lot of needs out there. But the Salvation Army has not been able to do its outreach ministry. They used to provide live music or sometimes someone would do a reading or another person would sit and play a game with a client.
“You know, just interaction,” Floor said. “And, of course, that doesn’t happen right now but, hopefully, that’ll get back on track.”
A new service that the Salvation Army is providing is the Community Volunteer Tax Program where a volunteer is available to help prepare tax returns. At the Ocean Crest Church, there is someone available Monday to Friday while at the Lighthouse Centre, someone is available at the same time as the meal service.