As far as the Salvation Army is concerned, COVID-19 is both an unprecedented challenge and nothing new.
Massive layoffs due to COVID-19 business shutdowns and restrictions have swelled Pennsylvania’s April unemployment rate to 15.1% and brought food insecurity front and center, in the same way that floods, fires, and earthquakes did in years gone by.
Responding as it always has since its founding in 1865, the Christian church and international charitable organization has turned its Lebanon Corps at 10th & Guilford Streets into a hub warehouse and food distribution center for other Salvation Army locations in seven southcentral Pennsylvania counties.
The Lebanon Salvation Army is currently receiving about 4,500 frozen meals per week, and enough boxes and dry goods for 1,250 breakfasts.
According to volunteer Bill Bishop, the frozen meals, each serving four, come from Operation BBQ Relief, with the support of Mission BBQ and Famous Dave’s BBQ. They are kept in three freezer trailers outside the Lebanon Corps’ building until repackaged by volunteers for re-distribution to the other Army locations.
“Usually we are called to respond to fires or accidents, with the canteen truck, to support first responders or victims,” said Bishop, a volunteer who recently acquired the title “Food Distribution Logistics Supervisor.” Before retiring, Bishop gained experience in logistics and planning by managing nuclear power plants.
“The pandemic has increased the needs of our local community in all areas. I’ve assumed the responsibility to assist with food distribution so the lieutenants and staff can attend to normal administrative functions and to the spiritual and physical needs of our community.”
The lieutenants Bishop referred to are Ivonne Rodriguez, Lebanon corps commander, and her husband, Marlon. They are responsible for day-to-day operation of the Army’s church and the regular activities that are the core of its mission.
“I’m proud of our Advisory Board and volunteers who arrive weekly to load and unload trucks, build boxes and pack boxes,” said Commander Rodriguez.
“The . . . Advisory Board is what is known as a ‘working board,’ which means that its members are very much involved in not only putting fundraising events together but also doing the actual work to make those events successful.”
Rodriguez and Bishop also praised the help the Army gets every day—in good times and bad—from regular volunteers, some of who have been showing up daily since the coronavirus pandemic hit.
LebTown recently visited the gymnasium that has become the center of the COVID-19 food distribution. Masked and socially distant Civil Air Patrol (CAP) volunteers from Lebanon, Reading, and Harrisburg were busy assembling cardboard boxes that will carry food to other Salvation Army locations in Reading, Lancaster, York, Carlisle, West Chester, Coatesville, Hamburg, and Allentown.
Standing in the gym full of food, boxes, camouflage-clad teenage CAP members, and volunteers from the neighborhood, Lieutenant Marlon Rodriguez couldn’t say enough about the board members, businesses, and volunteers who were getting food out the doors to those in need.
“They are the army behind ‘The Army.’ Their support makes miracles happen – keeping our doors open!”
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