That’s the biggest need the Joliet Salvation Army is seeing since the pandemic began, according to Major Dan Faundez, corps officer.
In a “non-COVID year,” about 80 people would attend the Salvation Army’s weekly food pantry, with many of those people only coming once a month, Faundez said.
“Now every Monday, we’re seeing about 600 people,” he said.
Of these clients, about 65% are Hispanic and 39% are African American, he said. These clients were already struggling; COVID-19 made it worse through unemployment or single parents having to leave their jobs due to remote learning, he said.
“There’s a large rate of single parenthood in the downtown, in our 5-mile radius,” Faundez said, adding that he sees a lot of generational poverty and few male role models in many of these families. “It’s a system of survival. It’s one parent working, and now that’s not the case.”
Fortunately, the Joliet Salvation Army was able to meet the increased need with food from the Northern Illinois Food Bank and with a grant, Faundez said.
But the Joliet Salvation Army’s only fundraiser, with the exception of some appeals sent via mail, is its Red Kettle Campaign during the holidays.
This year’s goal is $150,000. For many reasons, Faundez is concerned the Joliet Salvation Army might not attain it.
These reasons include lack of actual coins in circulation, more online shopping and the need for social distancing, he said.
Faundez said the Joliet Salvation Army is considering touchless forms of payment such as using QR code readers. He’s also hoping the community will donate online.
Nationally, the Salvation Army has kicked off a Rescue Christmas campaign.
“People are being conservative with their spending; we’re well aware of that,” Faundez said. “We’re sending up prayers and trusting that God will provide. We will continue to serve. We will continue to do what our ability and resources allow us to do.”
However, Faundez did point out the “beautiful thing” that’s happened with people’s increased need for food.
“Because of the traffic in our food pantry, all those families are now regulars, and that has created this bond, this relationship, with those that come,” Faundez said. “We don’t say, ‘Here’s your bag; go along your way.’ People have to wait in line and wait a little for things to be set up. During that time, we go to each car, with proper distancing, and check in: ‘How are you? How is your week going?’ ”
“We’ve taken this thing from just a revolving door into this relationship-building exercise that just really solidifies our relationships as we contemplate future endeavors: new programs and new resource opportunities for the community. We’re really excited about that piece.
“We don’t just give food only. We provide a touch point of hope, a conversation that goes beyond the physical nourishment to the social component.”
To donate to the Joliet Salvation Army, volunteer or for more information, visit centralusa.salvationarmy.org/joliet.