PORT ANGELES — In the age of COVID-19 and social distancing, the Salvation Army has had to improvise to fulfill its mission of feeding those in need and ministering to those seeking comfort.
The Port Angeles unit has switched over to carry-out meals, one-client-at-a-time food bank service and virtual church services.
Salvation Army Majors Ron and Barbara Wehnau, who lead the Port Angeles division, are rolling with the punches to follow the corps’ goals within the state guidelines of fighting the novel coronavirus. That includes not opening its kitchen at Second and Peabody streets to the public until the health emergency is over.
“It’s been a challenge, but it’s working.” Barbara Wehnau said. “We had to rethink what we’re doing and how we’re doing it.”
To provide breakfast and lunch to patrons Monday through Friday, the Wehnaus began bringing the service to the front door of the kitchen, using an entry foyer as a meal assembly area.
With the help of volunteers, meals are put together on the spot and passed directly to clients on the street between8 a.m. and 9 a.m. for breakfast and between noon and 1 p.m. for lunch.
Barbara Wehnau said marks were placed on the sidewalk outside the building and regulars were instructed to keep their distance between others to accommodate social distancing guidelines.
A circle was marked out in front of the door, with only one person at a time allowed near the serving area.
She admitted that many clients are loose with the distancing rules, but friendly reminders are continually given to obvious offenders.
Additionally, a portable hand washing station is wheeled out before each meal and telephone charging stations are available in front of the building, replacing services that normally would be available in the kitchen’s dining room.
Ron Wehnau said the kitchen served 628 meals during the week of April 6, but added that this number typically fluctuates on a monthly cycle, dependant upon issuance of food stamps and other support payments issued to families and individuals.
However, the organization has seen an uptick in people seeking food support from the in-house food pantry and meal servers are seeing people they have never seen before, he said.
Meal numbers could be somewhat askew because individual portions have been made bigger because of the inability to offer second helpings, he said.
And instead of meal-goers serving themselves beverages, individual requests are fulfilled at the door by volunteers.
Sometimes procedures and work-arounds are made up on the fly to accommodate individual circumstances.
“What I introduced as our whole way of doing things is ‘semper gumby’ — always flexible,” Ron Wehnau said. “We have to be flexible with what we do.”
The organization’s food pantry, which is open from 2 p.m. to 3:50 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, now offers service directly to the automobiles of those seeking help, Barbara Wehnau said.
The Salvation Army property cannot accommodate drive-up services provided by other nearby food banks, but those seeking food packages are told to take a number and are then called one at a time.
The Salvation Army’s weekly church service also has been forced to make changes. Instead of congregants meeting under one roof, services are now streamed online. For more information about the service, call 360 452-7679.
Ron Wehnau said the change-over was an odd one for him.
“For me, I’m a people person, I’m a teacher,” he said. “So not having a congregation in front of me as I’m delivering the message, that’s so strange.”
“How do you have a youth program, but not have youths for the program?” Barbara Wehnau asked.
She added that keeping connected with the community was sometimes a challenge when face-to-face encounters were discouraged.
Wehnau said her organization during the recent holiday weekend resorted to leaving Easter baskets and food packages at doorsteps, ringing the doorbell and backing away.
Even though the Salvation Army has had to change the way it conducts its mission to serve others, Ron Wehnau said they would cope with the obstacles and make up for it in other ways, such as offering food as compassionately as possible under trying circumstances.
“We’re taking so much away, but the one thing we can do better is the meals,” he said.
“We want to show people that they are loved and they deserve not just something to get the calories to hold them over, but something that is a good, filling meal.”
For more information, see the Salvation Army’s website at portangeles.salvationarmy.org or the agency’s Facebook page.
Photojournalist Keith Thorpe can be reached at [email protected].