NEWARK, NJ — The Salvation Army has provided humanitarian relief through pandemics, wars, natural disasters and crises of all shapes and sizes in its 155 years, but at least in Divisional Commander Major James Betts’ tenure, nothing quite compares to the coronavirus.
“It’s unlike anything we’ve ever dealt with, it’s certainly up there,” Betts said.
Regardless, TSA’s Newark Area Services has met the overwhelming hunger before it with rapidly expanded and reshaped programs. In the first 10 days of operations, more than 40,000 meals were distributed to residents.
According to TSA, 40% of those who used their meal program were victims of layoffs, furloughs or reduced hours. At the rate that need has been growing, the organization expects to dish out around 360,000 a month.
In New Jersey, more than 1 million residents have filed for unemployment benefits as a result of the public health crisis.
“We’re going to be here to serve going forward, we’re not going away,” Betts said.
The gym at TSA’s Westside Corps on Springfield Avenue was converted into a warehouse for bulk food donation in March, and a pantry was set up there and at the organization’s Ironbound location. This allows TSA to serve all Newark’s wards from multiple locations across the city as well as supplement by providing food to other pantries.
Even with the resources of an international organization, ramping up service to this level has been no easy feat. Many regular volunteers are seniors and considered vulnerable to COVID-19, and as staff fall ill, labor is often stretched thin.
TSA is also contracted to run homeless shelters and a drug and alcohol rehab center through the city. Monitoring these vulnerable populations to prevent outbreaks has been an added challenge.
To continue serving the Newark community, TSA is asking the community for support in the way of bulk donations of non-perishable foods, particularly baby food, diapers, PPE (surgical masks, N-95 and gloves), forklifts and two electric pallet jacks.
Volunteers who can serve on a consistent basis are needed as well.
“The Army is part of the fabric of the community all the time, so when the crisis happens we’re there from the moment it begins and we’re there for the long haul because we’re not leaving,” Betts said.