Homeless feeding brought severe challenges at height of COVID-19 service

Jun 4, 2020 | by Brad Rowland

Homeless feeding brought severe challenges at height of COVID-19 service

By: Major Frank Duracher

The Salvation Army has a long history of feeding homeless people of Charleston, South Carolina, at the administration/social services facility on Rivers Avenue. That never changed with the onset of COVID-19 restrictions. What did change, however, was the way they were able to continue that vital ministry to that at-risk population.

"Normally we served out of our mobile canteen," said Captain Jason Burns, Charleston corps officer, "but the county asked us not to use our canteen for fear of the virus spreading. So, we had to shift the ways we could continue to feed folks."

Captain Burns said that a few fast food restaurants are located nearby. Before COVID, many homeless routinely could "walk up" and, through the kindness of a store manager, be able to get a meal in exchange for sweeping a sidewalk or emptying trash bins.

But with restrictions imposed by the state, that abruptly stopped. This brought even more obstacles to a group of men and women already isolated.

"So, we had to step in," he said. "Our morning feeding more than doubled by mid-April. Fortunately, the Lord provided resources that always met the need."

Thanks to regular supplies funneled through the Army from the state, local food banks and area churches, there always seemed to be enough.

Every morning when he arrives at the office, Captain Burns said, he is greeted by guys that have become "regulars" for breakfast. He always spoke to them as opportunity allowed.

"One fellow (name withheld) is a homeless veteran who has been coming for coffee and pastries every morning for about a year now. We had a long talk one morning, and he told me that when the restaurants and fast food joints closed, the homeless population panicked, wondering where they could find food regularly.

"‘The one constant,' he told me, ‘has been you guys!'"

As the COVID numbers began leveling and finally curving downward, the county asked The Salvation Army to send the canteen out with daily visits to 10 locations around Charleston. County personnel conducted free COVID testing, while the Army canteen was positioned alongside to provide food boxes and cold drinks, and a disaster tent erected to provide shade.

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