Salvation Army Commissioner Kenneth Hodder had simple orders for its leaders responding to the crisis of COVID-19: Do what needs to be done, and do it in Christ’s name.
One of the biggest and best-known charities in the country, the Salvation Army is working overtime to meet the basic needs of millions of Americans facing unemployment at levels not seen since the Great Depression.
It has distributed 70 million meals since March, 20 million more than were distributed in all of 2019 and at 12 times the rate at which the organization distributed food after Hurricane Katrina.
The Salvation Army, which has operated in the United States since 1880, has also provided nearly 1.5 million additional nights of shelter for people facing homelessness because of COVID-19, on top of the nearly 9 million nights of shelter it provides annually.
Hodder led the church and relief agency’s California-based Western District before taking command of the US National Headquarters in July. The sheer scope of the country’s current needs is staggering, even for an organization experienced in responding to natural disasters.
He wants regional and local leaders to have the flexibility to adapt their programs based on the circumstances in their community, ensuring their work in all areas reflects God’s holistic care for people. Food, shelter, and emotional support represent the biggest needs the Salvation Army strives to meet, and providing relief looks different in each community.
Social distancing and stay-at-home orders have forced the Salvation Army to idle some of its programs, like support groups for senior citizens and athletic programs for kids. But other ministries have been rapidly scaled up.
At the Sherman Avenue Corps in Washington, DC, a food distribution program has grown from 75 meal boxes each month to 200 each week—half of them delivered by volunteers to residents who cannot leave their homes.
The Salvation Army has responded to 800,000 requests for spiritual and emotional support with a hotline, Zoom meetings, and Facebook Live services, on top of meal deliveries and shelter rooms.
“People need to know right now that they are cared about, seen, and understood. That’s one thing that I think the Salvation Army does very well,” Hodder said. “We are not only meeting physical needs, but helping people sense what Scripture makes clear, that they are loved, and God is there in the midst of these difficult moments.”
Hodder, a sixth-generation Salvationist and a second-generation National Commander, takes the helm in the midst of ongoing challenges.
At the start of the economic downturn earlier this year, some who typically donated to the Salvation Army were turning to the agency for help. The urgent demand prompted the centers to purchase food rather than waiting for donations.
While the Salvation Army hasn’t calculated the impact on its revenue streams, the increased needs combined with canceled fundraisers and the temporary closure of Salvation Army Thrift Stores during lockdown—a reliable source for $600 million in sales annually—will leave the agency strapped for cash.
But Americans have been generous. Donations during the first five months of the pandemic increased 238 percent over the same period in 2019. Still, the uptick will not make up for the losses so far this year. Bringing in $2 billion in donations, the Salvation Army is the 4th largest charity in the US, according to Forbes charity rankings.