The Mobile Meals program started in 2010 providing 45 meals on its first day. Utilizing the Emergency Disaster Services canteen, which typically serves first responders and victims at fires and natural disasters, the program grown each year. During the summer of 2014 1,000 meals were served each day day in as many as 39 different locations totaling just over 40,000. The meals include a sandwich, fresh cut vegetables, snack such as pretzels or chips, a dessert, and a juice box.
Staff and volunteers talk about how the children couldn’t wait to find out what their lunch bag held each day, and would sometimes hold their favorite item up in the air like a prize as they danced around the Emergency Disaster Services canteen which brought their meal.
Chris Farrand, Emergency Disaster Services Director, spoke with one parent at a distribution site. “These children have very little food, and sometimes they have to break up one meal and spread it throughout the day. Now they have a whole healthy meal, their bellies are full, and they are so happy as they play here. Please keep doing this,” she implored, “there need to be more programs like what The Salvation Army is doing here, all across America.”
Often when the feeding truck arrived the workers would see the children already lined up, sometimes in groups as large as 60 with no parents quietly waiting for their lunch. When they received their food they would often start dancing they were so glad to know they would eat lunch that day.
Major Bessie Babbitt talks about the impact of the program, “By going out into the community we are able to provide support to many families and children who would normally not be able to access these services.”
One worker remembers going to a house where the side wall had collapsed and there was actually a large hole in the side of the structure. As the truck drove by, the father, who had heard about the feeding program, jumped into his car and tracked the canteen down blowing his horn until we stopped. He said his family had no food and was overjoyed that his children would be able to eat for the remainder of the summer.
A woman with severe cancer had been told that The Salvation Army was coming to her community to feed children in need. In addition to a healthy meal for her toddler, she was connected to the Corps for more social service support.
The staff and volunteers open each day in prayer asking for God to lead them to the children in the greatest need. Their prayers were regularly answered. On one occasion, a woman with five children came to the canteen saying just that morning she had been asking God where their next meal was going to come from. Canteen workers remarked how they heard the children say over and over “God bless The Salvation Army” as they received their food.
Volunteers from all walks of life appreciated the opportunity to serve first by preparing meals, and then seeing the excited faces of the children as the canteen arrived. Volunteers included teen groups, churches, businesses, and Corps members.
One adolescent volunteer shared how her brother had volunteered in the program previously. “I saw such a positive change in his life from being a part of this program that I had to volunteer this year. I haven’t experienced anything like this and I will remember the joy in the faces of the children as long as I live.”
The Salvation Army is committed to serve the needs of those who are unable to provide for themselves. We strive to continue to be the hands of compassion to children and families in the communities we support.