As long as the hardships and struggles caused by the COVID-19 outbreak have people calling for help, the Salvation Army of Mitchell is trying to meet as many needs as possible.
With many local residents practicing social distancing and isolation in recent weeks to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus, it has taken its toll on the mental well-being of some, leading to the increased use of the Salvation Army's services, including a helpline.
“We have all of our retired officers answering the phones on the helpline if anyone needs someone to talk to during these times,” said Captain Deb Middendorp with the Salvation Army of Mitchell. “If you are a single person in your home and haven’t left for weeks, it is so important to have some type of human contact."
Middendorp said the helpline — which can be reached by calling (402) 898-5936 — has been quite busy since the organization opened it up to the public just over a week ago. Retired Salvation Army officers and pastors have been rotating to be on standby when a caller connects to the helpline, and are available from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Whether a caller is seeking to talk about personal strife or anxiety that they may be experiencing in the midst of the virus, Middendorp said callers also have the ability to join in prayer with the retired officers on the other side of the helpline.
“Even if you just want a listening ear, which can be exactly what some people may need in these difficult times, they are ready and waiting to be that for you,” Middendorp said. “It’s just another great way that we can connect with each other. People can leave a message and callback number on the helpline if they don't catch them during the regular hours.”
In addition to the Salvation Army’s helpline is the state's helpline known as 2-1-1, which was recently expanded in Mitchell for community information and referral services. In South Dakota, the 2-1-1 helpline can connect callers in need of medical assistance and mental health support to participating healthcare groups and organizations..
According to Jay Gravholt, the Avera Health director of media relations, the 2-1-1 helpline has been a very useful service for people who are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms or seeking mental health assistance. Gravholt said the helpline connects callers to the appropriate entities and professionals, which is available for Mitchell residents at any time.
Extending food sources for those in need
Aside from the phone helpline, Middendorp said free hot lunch meals are available to all from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Salvation Army's 724 N. Sanborn Boulevard location in Mitchell. To reduce the hand-to-hand contact in an effort to limit the potential spread of the virus, the Salvation Army is offering lunch delivery services for those who may be at high risk of the virus or want to limit traveling.
Since the virus was first confirmed in Mitchell on March 10, prompting business closures, layoffs and reduced work hours, Middendorp said the Salvation Army’s food pantry has experienced a significant spike in the volume of people utilizing the pantry. As of Tuesday, there were two confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 in the Mitchell community, but both of those individuals have recovered, according to state officials. .
“We’re seeing a lot of families who have never used the food pantry before, because they are in a situation where they need to right now,” Middendorp said. “We haven’t seen a large increase of home deliveries, but we have had a lot more traffic for the lunches and the food pantry.”
The food pantry is open from noon to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday. As of now, the Salvation Army is asking for only one individual at a time to come inside and receive the food from the pantry. Middendorp said there is a waiting line outside that helps with the flow of people using the pantry.
Although the food pantry is stocked up enough to handle the volume of requests, Middendorp anticipates the demand for more food and supplies will need to increase. One of the only timelines of the virus that has been provided on a national level was recently announced by President Donald Trump, who extended the Center of Disease Control’s (CDC) social distancing recommendation to last until April 30. The Mitchell City Council approved an emergency ordinance Monday to shut some businesses down or mandate they change its operation to combat the virus from spreading in the community.
“I really feel the need for more food is going to grow and grow as more things and businesses get shut down,” she said. “We’re able to order from the Feeding South Dakota food depository, but I don't know how long their supplies will last.”
While the food pantry looks to Feeding South Dakota to stock the pantry, Salvation Army Captain Bill Middendorp is encouraging local community members to donate food and supplies to help meet the potential demands during the pandemic.
The food donations that the Salvation Army is willing to accept has also been altered by the virus, as Bill Middendorp said the food donations must be in a case to eliminate extra hand contact on the donated items. In addition, cash and check money donations are welcomed for the Salvation Army to keep the food pantry stocked enough to meet the future demands.
Considering the Salvation Army Thrift Store in Mitchell has seen a significant decrease in sales -- which help fund the operational costs and food orders at the Salvation Army -- Bill Middendorp said financial donations are becoming more vital.
“This is a tough time, but it’s what we train for,” Bill Middendorp said. “We are here for everyone, especially in times of disaster and emergency situations. It’s very rewarding to be a part of helping people get through this. We will get through this.”