July is National Picnic Month

The Salvation Army’s Programs to Feed KY’s and TN’s Homeless Shine a Light on Outdoor Eating of a Different Type

Eating outdoors isn’t always a picnic but thanks to The Salvation Army’s programs to feed the homeless and the hungry, a light is being shined on the plight of the poor. Plus, the programs are done in a way that the outreaches aren’t just an opportunity to give out food, they are times of fellowship where folks can sit a spell and share a meal among friends and family.

Lorena Lasky, Divisional Social Services Director of The Salvation Army Kentucky and Tennessee Divisional Headquarters, is someone who knows a thing or two about providing the services necessary to serve the homeless and the hungry.

Donning an apron to serve the homeless shows the gospel in action.

“At the core of the foundation of The Salvation Army is the understanding that we need to feed the homeless. When it began in England, it was formed to minister to the spirit and to take care of the physical needs of clothing, food and shelter as well,” Lasky said.

The summer months bring special challenges for many families in need.

“We have a lot of families in need who aren’t necessarily homeless but they have greater needs in the summer because their children are home. Their kids would normally have breakfast and lunch provided at their school but in the summer, they have extra mouths to feed,” Lasky said.

April Calvin, Social Services Director of The Salvation Army Nashville, too, has seen an increase in families needing services this summer, including hot meals and a compassionate ear.

“The Salvation Army offers two feeding opportunities every week here in Nashville. On Friday nights, under the Jefferson Street Bridge on 2nd Avenue, we work with Isiah 58, another ministry, to provide food for the hungry, and on Thursdays, we provide a meal on our property. During the summer months, our shelters are fuller.  We have a 71-bed emergency supportive housing for single men, single women and for families here.” Calvin said.

During the Friday night outdoor meal, Calvin said there is an emphasis on bringing hope through a meal and fellowship.

“We were averaging about 200 people every Friday evening in June and we always need help.  We have many volunteer opportunities.  People can stock our pantries or volunteer during our feeding opportunities.  We also have a Life Skills University where people can offer whatever special skills they have.  We have four main campuses in Nashville.  We have a huge immigrant population in Davidson County and many are speaking English as a second language.  If people want to help, they can call our director of volunteer services, Misty Ratcliff, at 615-242-0411, extension 109 or go to our website where volunteer opportunities are listed,” Calvin said.  The website is http://salvationarmytennessee.org/nashville/how-you-can-help/volunteer/.

The Salvation Army Chattanooga’s programs to feed the homeless are improving lives one at a time.

The perception is that most chronically homeless people struggle with addiction issues and suffer from mental illness. While this is sometimes the case, Calvin said the primary factor leading to homelessness in Nashville is an unexpected one.

“In Nashville, the last three years the growth in the economy has contributed to our homelessness rate. Here, the problem is that the cost of living has increased 30 percent and it is pushing the poor out of the neighborhoods they were originally living in.  Many are working at minimum wage jobs which will not cover the cost of living in the city. Tennessee’s state minimum wage rate is $7.25 per hour, the same as the federal minimum wage rate,” Calvin said.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, a minimum wage job in Nashville pays $15,080 per year, based on a 40-hour work week. This amount falls considerably below the amount needed for a person to be self-supporting.

A single adult must earn $11.04 an hour to be self-supporting, and a family of four must earn $23.67 an hour to be self-supporting in Nashville, according to a report from the Massachusetts of Technology.

“We have 281 families on the centralized intake list just in Davidson County alone waiting for housing.  Those families are either living on the street or in shelters and at this time, 93 of these families are unsheltered. The biggest thing for us is that the economy is growing so fast, it is not allowing the impoverished to keep up,” Calvin said.

There is always hope though and often the needed help comes from volunteers and donations.

“We are fortunate that we have some grocery stores that will give us non-perishables. A way that people can help is that we often are very low on perishable foods such as bread, fruits and vegetables.  If readers are able to regularly contribute these foods, it would be a big help,” Lasky said.

Fresh fruits, vegetables and breads are always needed at The Salvation Army’s food pantries.

There are 14 shelters operated by The Salvation Army in Kentucky and Tennessee, Lasky said in explaining how great the needs are for the area’s homeless and low-income citizens.

“Many times we are the only shelter in the whole county, especially the rural ones. We have many shelters that are paid 100 percent from our kettle donations and thrift stores.  These shelters never close. They are open 365 days, on Christmas, on July Fourth, on every holiday. It is amazing to me what we do for people in need,” Lasky said.

Readers can help in a variety of ways to help stock The Salvation Army’s pantries with helpful food stuffs, including fresh foods.

“Community gardens is a type of partnership we would be interested in pursuing. If there are any local citizens or co-ops in the area interested in doing that, it would be great.  Louisville has a community garden they use with their culinary school.  Fresh fruits and vegetables are higher in nutrients,” Lasky said.

Lasky explained that when incomes drop, food choices often shift toward cheaper but more energy-dense foods. The first items dropped are usually healthier foods – high-quality proteins, whole grains, vegetables and fruit – and cheaper energy-rich starches with added sugars and fats become the most economical way to fill hungry stomachs.

Still, Lasky said, families want to eat the healthier foods, if they are available.

At the core of The Salvation Army’s response to homelessness – whether it is an outdoor soup kitchen, a food basket from the pantry, clothing, household items, or social services – is remembering that however a person became homeless; they are human beings needing a positive response and compassion.


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