Salvation Army giving emotional, physical support throughout pandemic

  • Members of the Salvation Army Emergency Disaster Services teams respond to the Tully Mountain brush fire in Orange in August. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Members of the Salvation Army Emergency Disaster Services teams respond to the Tully Mountain brush fire in Orange in August. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • In addition to assisting during the pandemic, the Salvation Army’s Emergency Disaster Services teams have continued to respond to fires and other disasters, including this summer’s Tully Mountain brush fire in Orange, by providing food, water, and emotional or spiritual care to victims and first responders. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 10/14/2020 3:23:48 PM
Modified: 10/14/2020 3:23:44 PM

For the last several months, the Salvation Army’s Emergency Disaster Services teams have served those affected by the lasting pandemic, while continuing to respond to house fires and other disasters to provide food, water, and emotional and spiritual care to victims and first responders.

Emergency Disaster Services is an all-hazards disaster response and preparedness program that operates at local, state and national levels. The Massachusetts division has more than 750 trained volunteers, five canteens, four shelter trailers and a host of other assets to respond to local and regional events.

For the past 12 years, Chris Farrand has served as the regional emergency disaster services director for Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut. The Salvation Army has local centers in Athol and Greenfield.

Farrand said local corps build relationships with their emergency management officials such as fire chiefs so the Salvation Army is ready to deploy trained local teams to provide support during fires, floods, blizzards, storm, power outages or other disasters. For events on a larger scale, the Salvation Army can bring in more resources, which could include any of their eight mobile feeding trucks and teams.

“They’re a part of the state emergency management plan,” Farrand said, noting that the Salvation Army has longstanding relationships with the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

In August, a Salvation Army Emergency Disaster Services team responded to the Tully Mountain brush fire in Orange, which lasted several days, by delivering food and water to first responders.

Teams responded to the Merrimack Valley natural gas explosions in September 2018, providing 1,000 meals a day. They provided assistance following the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013.

Farrand also recalled the Athol ice jam flooding of 2018, where the local Salvation Army corps pivoted to run the evacuation center, as well as a fire in Orange that claimed the lives of two young girls in 2016.

“We had used our EDS team to really be a rallying point around the community, and to provide emotional and spiritual care, which is another part of what we do,” Farrand said of the Orange fire.

Emily Mew, who came on as the Emergency Disaster Services state coordinator for Massachusetts in September 2019, said many team members are trained pastors, and have “ministry of presence” training for disaster response. She said the “statistical numbers” may not always be an accurate portrayal of their work, because so much of it is “part of the natural interaction that happens” in brief conversations after a disaster, or when someone comes to pick up a food box at their local corps.

“It’s not always captured, as far as the statistical numbers go, but it’s happening on a daily basis, naturally, with the way our people interact with the public,” Mew said.

Farrand said he has years of experience as a hospital chaplain and as a mental health counselor for a group home, which he said helped him “cut his teeth on ministry of presence” and psychological first aid. A big part of what the Salvation Army’s Emergency Disaster Services teams do is letting people know they’re not alone, providing hope by being there in the middle of something that’s overwhelming.

While there are no easy solutions for crises, he said it is essential to provide comfort and support.

For some folks, Farrand said, faith is a resiliency tool. He noted that providing emotional support has not only been essential for sudden disasters, but has also been a large part of their support process during the lasting COVID-19 pandemic.

Farrand and the Salvation Army also spearheaded a program where they established seven hubs in the state with nonperishable food for distribution. To date, Mew said the Salvation Army has distributed more than 12 million meals across Massachusetts during the pandemic.

When responding to disasters, the Salvation Army operates in three phases.

Phase 1, Emergency Preparedness, sees the teams ready to quickly respond to a disaster while working to educate other disaster professionals and the public at large on how to prepare for emergency situations. In Phase 2, Immediate Emergency Response, Salvation Army teams congregate at predetermined staging areas, entering the impacted area once first responders indicate it is safe to do so. Phase 3, Long-Term Disaster Recovery, sees the Salvation Army coordinate with government officials to develop and execute long-term disaster recovery plans while providing immediate response services.

The organization provides training courses for individuals and groups who wish to become volunteer responders for disaster relief. For information on how to become an Emergency Disaster Services volunteer with the Salvation Army, visit disaster.salvationarmyusa.org/volunteer/new/.


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