The Salvation Army holds a significant place in the heart of the Canton, Ill., community. This small town of nearly 14,000, located just outside bustling Peoria, is a place where people care about one another and are eager to support The Salvation Army’s services to help their neighbors in need.
When she arrived in Canton in 2015, Captain Sarah Eddy, corps officer, started devising new ways to connect with the community. Her monthly Facebook Live updates in which she shared encouraging messages and prayer quickly amassed a large following. She formed strong relationships with other churches, organizations and service groups and developed a system to keep in contact with volunteers and let them know of new opportunities. When the coronavirus pandemic caused an increase in the demand for services and a strain on the corps’ resources, she leveraged these connections to reach out for help to meet the growing need.
“COVID gave me courage,” said Captain Sarah. “Canton has been in the process of changing how we do worship and reach our community for the last few years. COVID helped us move forward a little quicker.”
As the community banded together to keep the people of Canton supplied with food and other necessities, the Army’s reach expanded. The health department provided a grant to secure cleaning supplies and food for those who were quarantined due to COVID-19, while a partnership with another
church enabled a mass distribution of 600 food boxes. The corps joined with the YWCA to deliver more than 16,000 meals to neighborhoods from a canteen, and thanks to a local diaper bank they were able to host a drive-thru diaper giveaway and add diapers to the items offered to people through the corps pantry.
Over the holiday season, Captain Sarah worked with community partners to ensure all of the regular holiday events and assistance programs could carry on in some fashion. For example, the red kettle kickoff was held live on the radio rather than as an in-person event and adjustments were made to the application and distribution processes for Thanksgiving and Christmas to ensure proper social distancing could be maintained.
Thanks to the HyVee grocery store and dozens of volunteers, 50 food baskets were delivered to families the weekend before Thanksgiving and nearly 250 hot meals were served in a drive-thru set up in the HyVee parking lot on Thanksgiving Day.
Similarly, Christmas distribution had to be adjusted. Families received bags of toys and boxes of food by a drive-thru system. Also provided to each family were “COVID Care Packs” which included cleaning products, soap and hand sanitizer collected during a local radio station drive. A pastoral care team was present to pray with people as they waited in their cars; gathered prayer requests were then linked into a paper chain and prayed over by corps members throughout the holiday season.
“I never want it to be, ‘Here’s your bag of toys,’ and that’s it,” said Captain Sarah. “I want it to be more than that. I want people to encounter Jesus.”
From pastoral “porch visits” to virtual worship, ministry has changed significantly, but according to the
captain the inconveniences created by pandemic life have provided new avenues for reaching the community. For example, virtual worship has led to a significant increase in the number of people attending Sunday services, and volunteers have adjusted to social distancing requirements by working at the corps in smaller groups and performing some tasks, such as writing donor thank you cards, from home.
“All of this has come because of the growing need due to COVID,” concluded the captain. “We have had opportunities to share Jesus in ways that go outside the boundaries of our traditional worship
services, and that has made a great impact.”