To many people who stay overnight at the Salvation Army, it’s not simply a shelter.
Those individuals are also helped by the social services the facility provides, said Lt. Liza Ayala.
The people who dine at the Salvation Army are not limited to the homeless.
“There are many reasons that people come to have their meals here,” said Ayala, the local Corps officer. “Sometimes they’re families that are living paycheck-to-paycheck, and they just need a little bit of help. When you have to choose between paying a utility bill or putting food on your table, this is a way that they can do both.”
The Salvation Army serves lunch and dinner five days a week.
“At lunchtime typically you’ll have the moms and the little ones that are not school-age yet,” Ayala said. They’ll be joined by the older children after they get out of school, “and then you’ll have the whole family together,” she said.
Senior citizens often join the people having lunch or dinner. “They’re seniors that might be sitting at home alone. And they come here for the fellowship,” Ayala said. “They get a meal, they can sit and visit with people, and it’s that human contact that really helps them.”
The diners might be people who “want to feel like they have a purpose.” At lunch and dinner, they meet people. “They share maybe God’s word, or encouraging words with others, and they are helped by this,” Ayala said.
Maybe they got through their own situation “and it’s their way of helping somebody and moving forward,” she said.
Monday through Friday, lunch is served from noon to 1 p.m. and dinner runs from 5 to 6 p.m.
In its year-round desire to help feed people, the Salvation Army receives a lot of assistance from Project Hunger.
The organization provides the Salvation Army with milk and egg vouchers. Families that use the Salvation Army’s food pantry are also given vouchers for milk and eggs. The recipients take the vouchers to local grocery stores, which give the families milk and eggs “and then they send a bill to Project Hunger,” said Sue Meier, the Salvation Army’s social services director.
The milk and egg vouchers are also included twice a month in the Food for Thought backpacks handed out by the public schools.
Project Hunger is one of the organizations that donate the food served in Salvation Army meals. Project Hunger also serves a meal Sundays from 5 to 6 p.m. in the Salvation Army dining room.
During the week, local businesses donate bread that is set out on a table. People who come for a meal “can get some bread to take home,” Meier said.
Those who dine at the Salvation Army receive a healthy meal, Ayala said.
If all you have at home is a can of peas, “that’s not a really complete meal. I’ve been there, where you just make a meal of whatever’s out there,” she said.
Ayala remembers making a meal of hominy and tomato sauce, “and then crackers to put it on. And so something like this would have been wonderful when I was a kid — being able to come and be with my family and have a good, complete meal,” Ayala said, referring to the Salvation Army.
This time of year, it’s important that people have a place that provides refuge from the cold as well.
Monday through Friday, the Salvation Army serves as a warming center. “That means if the temperatures get to 30 or below, anyone can come and sit in the cafeteria,” Ayala said.
Those people are certainly welcome to take advantage of the meal program, she said. But the doors are locked early in the evening.
A Thanksgiving meal will be served at the Salvation Army from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Nov. 28.
During the holiday season, people receive two mailings from the Salvation Army. One of them is from Omaha, where responses to that solicitation wind up.
The Grand Island Salvation Army hopes you will respond to the letter signed by Ayala. Donations generated by that effort help support the Thanksgiving dinner served in Grand Island.
Ayala has noticed that many volunteers and men staying at the shelter do what they can to contribute of themselves.
William Booth, who founded the Salvation Army, believed that many people “didn’t want to just receive a handout. They wanted to work for what they were receiving,” Ayala said.
She has observed that many men spending a night at the shelter will stay after a meal and clean the tables.
After supper, “they’ll clean the tables and then put the chairs up so that our custodian can do the floors in the morning,” Ayala said. It’s “their way of giving back.”
Some of the volunteers who serve the meals are “working through things themselves,” she said.
Helping to feed other people is “a good way for them to take their focus off of themselves,” Ayala said. The assistance and interaction with others are “healing for them.”
Families usually receive a maximum of three food orders a year from the food pantry.
But Meier will tell them about the Salvation Army’s hot meal program. She also tells them about a meal served every Saturday at Messiah Lutheran Church, from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m., and sandwiches provided by St. Stephen’s Church on Sundays from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
She also informs people about the food pantries at St. Mary’s, Blessed Sacrament and Hope Harbor, and the free mobile food pantry that visits Grand Island once a month.
“Between working together, nobody should go hungry,” Meier said.