Ruth Eckerd Hall

By: Brad Rowland

With many in dire need across the country and the world, The Salvation Army is operating at increased capacity with an eye on doing the most good in local communities. In Clearwater, Florida, drive-thru food distribution events have been a way of life at The Salvation Army’s social services campus but, with demand on the rise and size limitations with the property and its parking lot, an uptick in food delivery was difficult.

As such, The Salvation Army began partnering with Ruth Eckerd Hall on an additional, weekly drive-thru distribution that can accommodate more individuals and make a substantial impact in the process.

“On our social services campus, we were limited in terms of how many cars could be on or around our property,” said Teresa Hibbard, Director of Development. “Otherwise, there would be a real traffic issue. We could only serve so many people. By expanding and adding Ruth Eckerd Hall, our service greatly expanded.”

Ruth Eckerd Hall is a 73,000-square-foot performing arts venue located on a major thoroughfare in Clearwater. As a result of its more than 2,000-seat capacity, the location features a large parking lot and infrastructure already in place. Kevin Chinault, Social Services Director for The Salvation Army in Clearwater, connected with the Mayor of Clearwater and, in the process, touched base with a major food provider to ensure that all food distribution is supported by donations.

In addition to the donated food, the partnership with Ruth Eckerd Hall also netted help on the ground, with staff at the facility helping distribute goods. Security services, in partnership with the Clearwater Police Department, are also offered, with handmade masks distributed after a large donation from a local non-profit.

“Ruth Eckerd Hall was amazing in their support of The Salvation Army’s June events,” said Major Ted Morris, corps officer. “In addition to providing the perfect venue, they donated staff for security, traffic flow, and food distribution. We could not be more blessed.”

“This entire crisis is an ever-moving target,” Hibbard said. “We are adapting, and Ruth Eckerd Hall has been great and wonderful. The Clearwater Police have been wonderful. We’ve really had amazing partners during this time.”

Food boxes include non-perishable items, as well as fresh produce, proteins, milk, cheese, and more. More than 3,000 hungry families were served in June, with this partnership continuing through July with the potential for expansion beyond that timeline.

In mirroring the rest of the country, demand for social services assistance is skyrocketing in the area. This is especially true of individuals who previously worked in the hospitality industry and, with tourism as a central tenet in Clearwater, the community has been hard-hit by closures, reduced hours and layoffs.

While the partnership with Ruth Eckerd Hall is helping The Salvation Army reach individuals with pre-existing relationships and defined needs, the outreach is also wide-ranging and touches many who were not in contact with the organization previously.

“I think we’ve laid the foundation and built credibility and trust with people that we’ve never served before,” Hibbard said. “I think they know that, when the time comes, people in this community know that The Salvation Army will be there for them. A feeding program and a partnership like this can also be an opportunity to open the door to other services that The Salvation Army can provide to people to really make an impact and change lives.”

Original story here.

Heidi & Jeremy
disaster relief

Heidi and Jeremy Wardell in front of the scorched trees on their property in Black Forest, Colorado.

In the summer of 2013, the Black Forest fire burned 14,280 acres and destroyed more than 500 homes on its way to becoming the most destructive fire in Colorado state history.

On June 11, Heidi and Jeremy Wardell evacuated their “dream home” in Black Forest, taking the valuables they could gather in the 40 minutes fire officials gave them to get out.

While staying at a hotel nearby, they checked the El Paso County Sheriff’s Department website for the list of homes declared a total loss. For two days, their home wasn’t on the list. It was safe and they were thankful.

While watching a news conference about the fire on June 13, Jeremy refreshed his browser and there it was; their home was on the list.

He was devastated but Heidi was in denial about what it all meant. She tried to make the best of it, thinking instead about what she wanted in a new house. Maybe she could finally get the crown moldings she’d been wanting.

The couple met with representatives from their insurance company who confirmed that records showed the home was a total loss. They began to prepare for what seemed inevitable.

Ten days after it began, firefighters finally got control of the blaze. And about three weeks after that, people started returning to their neighborhoods to see what was left of their homes and belongings. Heidi and Jeremy were in the last phase of people permitted to go back in.

When they arrived, their house was still there: it was the only one in the whole neighborhood. Everything around them was scorched, right up to their driveway.

heidi and jeremy

The ground and trees were scorched up to the driveway in front of the Wardell’s home.

“The neighbors’ trees even looked like charred pencils but most of ours were still there,” said Heidi.

For Heidi, seeing their house and trees standing was like the Biblical story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in chapter three of the book of Daniel. As the story goes, three men were thrown into a furnace by King Nebuchadnezzar because they refused to renounce their faith and bow down to the king.

But the king saw the three men walking around in the fire, untouched by the flames. He also saw a fourth; God himself — the one who spared them.

disaster relief

Later Heidi and Jeremy learned that firefighters had dug a trench around their home and tossed their propane tanks up the hill and away from the house to keep them from exploding and setting their property ablaze. The National Guard had even patrolled the neighborhood to keep looters from helping themselves to what remained.

“It was a miracle,” says Heidi. “I don’t know why God spared our home but we’re so grateful. This experience has made everything seem so much more precious and showed us that life can also be unstable. We can look back and remember that when everything seemed out of control God was — and still is — taking care of us no matter what we encounter in the future.”

When they returned to their neighborhood, The Salvation Army had set up nearby to offer their assistance, which included helping residents sift through the ashes on their property to find any possessions that might be left.

That day, The Salvation Army volunteers put their arms around Heidi and Jeremy, gave them hugs, and welcomed them home. They also gave them a clean up kit so they could get to work clearing the layer of ash that covered everything in their home.

“It was simple but the emotional and practical support meant so much,” says Heidi. “It was such a pivotal moment in our lives and we’ll never forget it.”

The whole experience changed the Wardells. One of the things from those days that reminds them of God’s grace is the damage assessment form they found tacked to their front door when they got home.

disaster relief

The form had four options:
— No obvious damage
— Cosmetic damage
— Limited structural damage
— Substantial structural damage DO NOT ENTER

The box next to ‘no obvious damage’ is checked. The form is now framed and positioned in the living room as a lasting reminder, complete with Heidi’s notes: “evacuated: June 11, 2013, total loss list: June 13, 2013, saved by God”

Heidi says they had no idea that The Salvation Army would be there to care for them when they returned but they’re so glad we were.

As always, it’s our calling — and pleasure — to stand with people when times are tough.

Find out more about The Salvation Army’s Emergency Disaster Services.