HACKENSACK, N.J. — The coronavirus pandemic may have the world in its grip, spreading sickness and causing non-essential business owners to shutter their doors resulting in reduced revenue, unemployment, and mental health issues. But societal upheaval isn’t enough to stop the Salvation Army from continuing their Herculean mission to serve needy families, in fact, it’s been more of a driving force.
Currently, 70 percent of the people that benefit from a myriad of their services — from food, to rental, housing, resume help, online tutoring, even helping drug users gain entrance into detox and treatment programs — are right here in the City of Hackensack.
For the past three months, Officer Gordon Sparks has run a tight shift out of the garage of his Blanchard Terrace residence. Bare essentials from rolls of toilet paper to fruits and vegetables and non-perishables from pasta and jarred sauces, gallons of milk and loaves of bread are packed in boxes and delivered three times a week to dozens of families in need.
At the start of each week, Sparks makes a shopping trip to the Restaurant Depot, and receives donations from the Walmart Registry for Good — an online platform through which people can donate food and money to a good cause. He also picks up food from the Salvation Army locations in Newark and Red Bank. By mid-week, volunteers deliver the boxes of food emblazoned with the words “Doing the Most Good,” to roughly 150 families in the city twice per month.
But sustenance isn’t the nation’s largest disaster relief organization’s only service. Sparks has also opened his door to the recently laid-off to help job seekers polish up their resumes and interview skills, and even carved out time to spend with high school-aged Spanish-speaking students learn the English language to prepare them for the upcoming school year.
On the housing front, because homeless shelters have not been accepting people given the current coronavirus pandemic, Sparks has also stepped in to provide five weeks of lodging for eight area families in need of a roof over their head. After receiving a call from a worried mother, he helped an addict in his early 30s off the streets and into a detox program from which he recently began treatment. And Sparks says he’s determined to see him through.
“When he comes out of treatment, we’ll be there to support him as well,” said Sparks.
While Sparks’ work would make anyone feel like a hero, the real heroes, he said, are the people he helps get back on their feet and the greatest spiritual reward.
“I love to see people more fully realize their potential,” he said. “If I can to that end, that’s very exciting to me.”
To inquire about donation, email newjersey.salvationarmy.org, call 201-342-6531 if you need assistance, or send donations to 441 Blanchard Terrace, Hackensack, 07601. Diapers and school supplies are currently sought.