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Mar. 13—SHARON — As businesses were closed or reduced their workload because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the need among struggling workers and residents increased — placing an increased demand on the Salvation Army in Sharon.
To reduce the risk of spreading the disease, all of the army's indoor services were ended, such as meals that would normally be held in the Salvation Army's cafeteria. The monthly food distributions were moved outdoors and adapted to a drive-through format, Capt. David Childs said.
The army's family store was also shut down for about eight weeks, and only reopened under reduced occupancy, Childs said.
"A year ago, no one was sure how contagious the virus was, so by moving everything outdoors we didn't have people moving throughout the facility," Childs said.
Usually there are about 200 families registered for the Salvation Army's regular monthly distribution, which represents about 375 people. Using CARES funds to purchase additional food, the Salvation Army organized emergency food distributions to help get food quickly into the hands of people who were affected by the pandemic, he said.
"After those first few weeks, we really could start to feel the impact of COVID on the county, so we shifted things over and merged those in need because of COVID into our regular food pantry," Childs said.
But despite the increased demand on the Salvation Army and the economic fallout of the pandemic, the army's annual Red Kettle Campaign in 2020 ultimately came within about $1,000 of their original $75,000 goal in local donations. The campaign serves as the main fundraiser toward the army's operations in the following year, Childs said.
An anonymous donor also agreed to match dollar-for-dollar whatever the armies throughout western Pennsylvania were able to raise through their Red Kettle Campaign, which Childs said ensured the Salvation Army in Sharon will be able to maintain their services in 2021.
"When you consider the state of the world at that time, it was pretty remarkable," Childs said of the support. "I can't say it enough, how grateful we are to the community."
There were some programs the Salvation Army would host that have not returned, such as in-person church services, which are now being held virtually. Vacation Bible school and the mobile food program organized in partnership with the Community Food Warehouse of Mercer County have not resumed either, Childs said.
The weekly senior program, where seniors could visit the Salvation Army every Friday for activities, meals and socialization, was a major program that had to be ended due to the threat COVID-19 posed to seniors. In a normal year, the senior program would draw about 80 seniors, Childs said.
Some things may return in some form this year, but Childs said it ultimately depends on how much the pandemic improves.
The Salvation Army did receive some CARES funding which was put toward their utilities assistance program, of which Childs said they've only used about five percent. Under the program, applicants can request financial assistance where the army pays for one of their utility bills.
To apply for the program, Childs said applicants can call 724-347-5537 to set up an appointment.
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