Local nonprofits adapt to coronavirus challenges

Enthusiastic volunteers are needed to help The Salvation Army “ring” in the Christmas season.

For non-profit organizations like Christian Community Action and The Salvation Army, the holiday season always has been important. From serving hundreds of meals at Thanksgiving and Christmas to ringing bells to raise money at area businesses, their service to the community makes a difference.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic has posed challenges nobody could have foreseen but ones that must be faced to meet the needs of the public.

Both agencies have endured increasing demand for their services with people losing their jobs. Both organizations provide financial assistance to pay for things like rent, mortgage, utilities, food, and personal items while The Salvation Army supplies clothing and places to stay for the homeless. They also typically help people with educational and job-training needs, some of which are on hold for now.

“We’ve had about a 78 percent increase in the number of families and individuals who have been served during the pandemic. That’s equates to more than 4,000 families and individuals we have served between March and September,” said Gilbert Montez, CCA’s president and chief executive officer since April. “We’ve helped families to the tune of more than $712,000 which represents a 224 percent increase over the same period last year.

“The demand has been stunning. While people get numb that COVID is here, what we’re seeing is some of our weekly numbers for help continue to go up. From a needing help perspective, the need is not diminishing at all.”

The same has been the case for The Salvation Army, which like CCA, is headquartered in Lewisville.

The Christmas season is an especially difficult time for families struggling due to the pandemic.

“Every single day I get in a conversation with someone who has just lost a job who was hanging on or didn’t get the extra amount of unemployment,” said Executive Director Stephen Thomas, who added that 20-30 new people each week have been utilizing the mobile food bank. “We’re just thankful to be here to help. We’re glad to be that bridge that helps them get over the hump.”

When unemployment numbers rise, both organizations brace for the aftereffects. The challenge has been a decreasing amount of funds since some state and federal grants are running low or out of money and some businesses have cut back on donations. So, both Montez and Thomas are asking people who live in the communities they serve to pick up the slack.

“This is a great community. It always has been,” said Montez, who has lived in Highland Village since 1994. “We’ve always seen it respond and I believe it will again to help us help families. It’s like neighbors helping neighbors.”

“It’s sad the number keeps going up but I’m thankful we’re able to take care of them because of partnerships with the North Texas Food Bank, Love Thy Neighbor, Denton Farms and 15-16 churches that are rotating taking care of us for personal care items,” Thomas said. “We’re so thankful. We just couldn’t do it without our church partners.”

In addition to receiving less money from many of the usual sources, processes have changed during the pandemic with flexibility and adjustment being the key words for both organizations including serving people outside since for the most part they can’t come inside the facilities.

“How do we continue to serve people under this situation? We’re constantly asking,” Thomas said. “We had two fundraising events cancelled so what can we do instead?”

While both will continue the tradition of providing holiday meals, they will not happen in the usual festive group ways but rather in drive-through and pick up through programs like The Salvation Army’s Mobile Food Pantry.

“We’re still working hard to meet the family needs and provide for them a happy, joyous occasion during the holidays just in a different way,” Thomas said. “Everybody has adjusted and we’re doing the same to stay safe.”

Instead of people coming to CCA’s food pantry to shop for what they need, food has either been delivered to them or placed in cars driving up to the facility. In place of applying for help in-person, it is all done online. Rather than students picking up backpacks in person, families had to go the drive-through route.

In addition to money, donations of clothing, toys and gift cards are needed. This includes items for about 125 seniors through CCA’s Golden Angels program and gifts for more than 2,000 children for the Christmas Toy Distribution event. The Salvation Army also needs donations for its Angel Tree gift-giving initiative.

Equally important is volunteers to ring the bells during The Salvation Army’s Red Kettle campaign which kicks off Nov. 16 and runs through Christmas Eve.

“It will be contact-free. It’s always been that way. There’s no touching of the money. The volunteers are never to touch money. They have paint sticks to shove it back in if it gets stuck,” Thomas said.

The Salvation Army will provide everything for ringers to remain safe including masks, gloves and hand-sanitizer.

Donators also are needed for the Angel Tree program.

“Our goal is to provide gifts for children. We started taking applications in early October and already surpassed 800 and we think we’ll be at the 2,000 mark pretty soon,” Thomas said.

Since 65 percent of the people served by The Salvation Army are Spanish speaking, people who speak the language are needed. Volunteers also are needed to sort and distribute 4,000-7,000 pieces of clothing monthly.

“We just both want to more efficiently and effectively serve our communities and make a positive difference together where we’re not duplicating services,” said Thomas who regularly meets with Montez for lunch to discuss how their organizations can work together.

“We want to be as effective and efficient as can be to serve as many people as we can during this crisis because we never know when this is going to end.”

Anyone wanting to help CCA can mail checks, go online (ccahelps.org) to donate by credit card, choose items through Wish List on Amazon, or ask their employers to conduct toy drives.

People interested in volunteering for The Salvation Army Red Kettle initiative can go to registertoring.com to sign up for three-hour slots at any of 27 retail locations in southern Denton County.

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