Q & A with Linda Lopez

Use of Salvation Army’s food pantry up 25%, demand for other services also high, says the organization’s director for community services

By Mary Beth Roach

Q: Can you give us an overview of what the local Salvation Army is and or does?

A: The Salvation Army in Syracuse is a large multi-service agency. We have about 30 different programs. We have five core areas that we work in.

We have early education centers for children ages 0 and 5. We provide full daycare. We have early Head Start services and universal pre-K embedded in that. We also have a drop-in daycare center at the courthouse for families who are using Family Court. Emergency and practical assistance, which is our very large food pantry. Support services related to housing assistance, rental assistance, utility assistance; supports for folks struggling with mental health issues. We have an 84-bed family shelter; a women’s shelter, which is a shelter for women with mental health or substance abuse issues; permanent supportive apartments for that same population. We have a healthcare navigator program, which does enrollment for all the New York State health insurance programs.

We have Booth House, which is the community’s runaway and homeless shelter; Barnabas, which is a shelter for older homeless youth. We have three transitional living programs for youth and young adults — one for older homeless youth, one for young adults who have histories of homelessness and mental health, and the transitional apartments and parenting center for young women who are pregnant and parenting. We also do non residential services and youth services.

We do a lot of preventive child welfare services for Onondaga County. We provide intensive in-home services for them. We have the foster visitation center. Children who are in foster care visit with their biological parents at the center and we provide coaching support on parenting, clinical support to help those families get reunified. We have domestic violence counseling services and supervised visitation services.  We also have a range of Medicaid-funded services for children with serious emotional and behavioral needs. We have skill-building and some in-home clinical services for them, counseling services and we have children’s care management, which helps families pull together a plan for a child with serious health or mental health issues and get connected with your appropriate resources in our community.

We have an adult social day program. We also provide within that center respite care for individuals who might be caring for an older adult and need to go to work. It provides a safe place for them to be during the day. And we have information referral services, some services that can help seniors connect with safe housing.

Q: What’s your coverage area?

A: Onondaga County. Many of our services are located within the city of Syracuse, but we do a lot of home and community-based services so we serve people all over the county.

Q: How’s the Salvation Army funded? How big is your budget?

A: Our budget’s about $18 million, about 200 employees. We have contracts with the city, the county, the state, with the federal government. We have some private foundation money. We have a few things that would be considered fee for service. Some childcare; some families pay for the respite services for the seniors, but everything else is either through contract or through insurance billing.

Q: How many clients do you serve?

A: We serve a little more than 30,000 every year. We also do the Christmas bureau for the community. We serve about 9,000 people through the Christmas bureau. All told, we serve somewhere between 31,000 and 35,000 people a year.Q: Are you seeing an increase in the number of people you serve over the past few years?

A: For sure. You see it in pockets. For example, right now the food pantry is just swamped. People who are receiving food stamps were getting supplemental COVID benefits. Those ended, so people suddenly had about $90 less per family member. And our housing assistance programs are also really busy now because the cost of rental housing is so high people are really having a difficult time being able to afford safe rental housing. And our children’s mental health services. COVID-19 took a toll on everybody — took a particular toll on children. We have a high demand for services in that area.

Q: What would you consider your biggest challenge?

A: Right now — and I would say this is universal to human services — is staffing. Workforce impacts every sector but has particularly impacted human services. A number of people are still looking for remote options. That’s not human services. The other challenge for us is the food pantry. We served 25% more than we did the same month last year. We’re on track for serving probably well over 250,000 meals out of our pantry. That takes a lot of food.

Q: How can the community help?

A: There are a couple ways. We have a number of people who make cash donations. They can donate through our website (easternusa.salvationarmy.org/empire/syracuse/).  Right now, we’re asking corporations, faith communities, if they will do targeted food drives for us.  They can call in to our office. We know what the key items are that we need. And we always need volunteer help.

Q: Are there any new initiatives that you’re currently working on or might be coming up?

A: We’re doing an expansion of our early education center. We have created some new space. One of the things that happened with young children during COVID-19 was lags and delays. We serve a lot of children who need speech therapy and physical therapy and occupational therapy. So we’ve created some space for that to occur, while they’re in childcare. We’ve also created a gym space, a space for families to be able to meet with their teachers and educational programs for themselves while they’re here. And one of the really exciting things is we’re adding a STEM room for our 3- and 4-(year-olds.) It’ll be a learning lab for science, technology, math to get our little ones started with that. We’re excited about that.