Salvation Army in Springfield goes over-the-fence for free Thanksgiving meals

Published: Nov. 26, 2020 at 6:05 PM CST
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This was our country’s first...and hopefully last.. Thanksgiving with the coronavirus pandemic.

While it has provided many challenges, it did not deter those who wanted to give out free dinners.

“One of our commitments early on was COVID will not have the victory over Thanksgiving,” said Springfield’s Salvation Army Commander Jon Augenstein.

Normally the Salvation Army provides a free sit down dinner for those in need of a Thanksgiving meal.

“Our intention is not just to give food but give an opportunity to socialize and enjoy other folks during the holiday,” Augenstein explained.

That wasn’t possible this year because of the surge in COVID-19 cases locally so on Thursday from noon to 1 p.m. the Salvation Army brought around 270 prepackaged meals out into the backyard of their downtown Harbor House location on Boonville Avenue and handed out the food in styrofoam containers.

There were plenty of obstacles this year including a lack of volunteers. About a dozen helped Thursday’s servings but normally it’s a much bigger group.

“A lot of our volunteers have been older folks,” Augenstein said. “And with COVID they’re at increased risk.”

That’s why it was encouraging to see some younger volunteers this year including the Jarrett family who came all the way from Mtn. Grove to help prepare and hand out the meals. Dad Preston, mom Brittany, seven month-old Van, five year-old Parker and even dog Bernie all made the trip.

“Just felt like we wanted to start a new tradition,” Brittany said of the family’s first-ever Thanksgiving day volunteer effort. “When I was raised we did a lot of volunteering and it was really important. I just want to make sure our kids have that instilled in them.”

Cradled in a baby carrier on his mom’s torso, seven month-old Van was pretty much just along for the ride as Brittany spent most of her time loading food containers with turkey and other fixin’s. But Van seemed very interested in staring down solid food that he’s just now learning to eat.

Five year-old Parker was hands-on everywhere from dishing out the servings to preparing the containers to handing out the socks (that went with the meals) to the waiting patrons over the fence. His only problem was getting those stubborn mashed potatoes to get off the spoon and into the styrofoam containers.

“He did better than I expected,” Brittany said. “Now he should just go run a restaurant.”

“It’s good to see him help others and want to help others,”added Preston. “It makes me a proud dad.”

“Young families are really what volunteering is all about,” Augenstein said. “Teaching the next generation the value of giving back to your community. To see this young family here coming from such a long distance is such a blessing. It gives you hope.”

And Augenstein is hoping that other volunteers will come forward as the Salvation Army enters its bell-ringing campaign which this year hopes to raise $875,000.

Reaching that goal will also be a challenge because of the pandemic.

“The Christmas Kettle Campaign is about one-third of the funds we use not just to help at Thanksgiving and Christmas but it really helps us 365 days a year for all of our programs,” Augenstein said. “So it is a critical time of year when we make-or-break what we’re going to be able to do for the community.”

And what they... and you... can do is much needed during these trying times.

“Anybody can fall into poverty at any time,” Brittany pointed out. “It doesn’t matter where you come from, what race or ethnicity or socioeconomic status you are. No one plans to be in this situation and it’s just our responsibility as humans to stand up for everybody.”

“It hurts my heart to see the people that need it so bad all the time and we’re so selfish sometimes in the way we’ve got things,” Preston said. “There’s a lot of people who need the things we’ve got and we take it for granted.”

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