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As winter approaches, The Salvation Army sees more need for shelter and other assistance

Major Heath Sells
Jody Holtz
Citadel Corps Officer and Director of the Salvation Army Major Heath Sells

As the weather turns colder and the holiday season lurks around the corner, the Salvation Army is busy trying to keep up with the changing needs of the Tri-County community.

Major Heath Sells is a Citadel Corps Officer and Director of the Salvation Army in the Tri-County. He says the Salvation Army offers many forms of assistance.

“Here in Peoria the Salvation Army has the longest continuously ran child care center … we have a number of shelters … we have a camp facility that we call Eagle Crest Camp in Woodford County. We have a veterans service program. We have a large gamut of programs and services focused on meeting people where they are, what their needs would be, and all those things happen right here in the Tri-County.”

As temperatures drop, Sells notes that there are shelters both in Peoria and Pekin for those who are experiencing homelessness. The Salvation Army also provides coats and other winter apparel to equip those who may be spending excessive amounts of time outside, in addition to food pantries in an effort to stand in the gap of the increasing amount of food insecurity throughout Peoria, especially the south side.

"We are being inundated with requests either for mortgage or rental assistance."
Heath Sells, Salvation Army

“If you know someone who is in need of help, have them dial 2-1-1, or give them directly to the Salvation Army so that they can come and take advantage of the programs we have,” said Sells.

However, many of those services are strained, due to the end of the eviction moratorium and other COVID-19 assistance.

“We are being inundated with requests either for mortgage or rental assistance. There’s a large influx of people asking the Salvation Army to provide that emergency food and shelter so that they’re not evicted. Our shelter in Pekin is absolutely full … our family shelter is full,” said Sells.

Sells says understanding and adapting to the direction of COVID-19 is one of the biggest challenges the nonprofit faces currently. In order to uphold the Salvation Army's shelter model that meets the needs of all people, he says finding long-lasting solutions as opposed to just temporary relief is critical.

“We need to be cognitive of the idea of how do we provide permanent supportive housing for those in need so that it's not just an emergency Band-Aid and then we find someone in that same situation two or three months down the road,” explains Sells.

Supply chain issues could be another potential hurdle to jump, though Sells says he hasn’t seen those issues affecting the nonprofit yet. However, that could be a different story as the holiday season approaches.

“I don’t know if fear is the right word to use, but when we’re talking about toys and matching those up with children this holiday season, I want to make sure they’re not stuck out in the port of Los Angeles,” said Sells.

In order to combat these challenges, the need for volunteers is pressing, and Sells says when talking about supply chain, that doesn’t just mean material goods, but the supply chain of volunteer services, which COVID had shut down. However, with the vaccine being distributed throughout the Tri-County, the Salvation Army is once again accepting volunteers, including bell ringers for their signature red kettles.

“If you are inclined to be able to give a couple of hours to ring a bell...we know that spending an hour ringing a bell provides a family a night of shelter...if you can do two hours, that's a huge impact that we begin to have on our community,” said Sells.

Other volunteer opportunities range from packing food in food pantries, teaching fine arts lessons to children, serving in soup kitchens, as well as donating unopened gifts so children in the Tri-County can have presents this holiday season.

“We’re not just giving from the hip, we’re giving from the heart ... to connect our skills and talents in a unique way that will have an impact with our neighbors in need,” said Sells.

For more information on the Salvation Army’s programs and services, volunteer opportunities, and fundraisers in the Tri-County, visit sapeoria.org or sapekin.org.

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Jody Holtz is WCBU's assistant program director and host of WCBU's newsmagazine All Things Peoria and WCBU's morning news podcast On Deck.