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Changes at Lynn, Saugus Salvation Army sites prompted by COVID-19 crisis

By Steve Krause | March 25, 2020

The COVID-19 health crisis has affected the Salvation Army in a few ways — and in a few locations.

While the Lynn citadel at the bottom of Franklin Street has expanded its food program to run five days a week instead of its usual three, the donation and drop-off center in Saugus along with the family thrift store, all on Route 1 South next to the 99 Restaurant, have been closed until further notice.

“We would appeal to the public to please hold off on donations to our drop-off sites and our main location site in Saugus,” said Lt. Joseph Swistak, administrator for business of The Salvation Army Adult Rehabilitation Center in Saugus. “There is nobody there to man these sites, and what happens is that they get picked through, and the donations end up being something that’s not usable.”

While the distribution center and thrift store remain closed, the adult rehabilitation center, also on Route 1, remains open — with provisions.

The main provision is that until the crisis has been judged to have passed, nobody is going either in or out. 

“Everyone there is sheltering in place,” said Swistak. “We are trying to keep everyone safe.

“It is a self-contained facility on 10 acres of land, and there is very limited interaction. Right now, we are asking people not to come onto the campus. There are roughly 70 people sheltered in place.”

Swistak also said that outside staff, as of noon Tuesday, will not come back to the campus as long as the crisis continues.

“We are attempting to keep everyone busy,” he said. “We have in-house employees. Those are graduates who live here, and work as well. They are manning the campus and keeping everything running smoothly.”

Swistak said that working with addicts becomes more important in times such as these.

“What we hear from the medical community is that those who are predisposed to (addiction issues) are at greater risk, not just for addiction but in getting this virus,” he said.

He added that the addictions themselves heighten the danger of being infected by COVID-19 — and are more susceptible to being hit hard by it.

“People who smoke are very susceptible,” he said. “And a lot of the people in our center have smoked all their lives.”

Swistak is aware that the Salvation Army takes a huge hit with the closing of the donation center.

“It’s what we do,” he said. “Without the kind donations of individuals, we can’t do what we do. They help us do what we do. They help us fund the programs because we don’t take donations from the state. So (people who donate) help us change lives.”

One place where that is happening is Lynn, where food is now distributed Monday through Friday.

“The monetary issue is a strain,” Swistak said. “There are a number of people at this point in the Lynn/Saugus area where people already live hand-to-mouth on their paychecks, and those who lose their ability to stay ahead of the game.”

Lynn Capt. Helen Johnson said the gym on Franklin Street has been turned into a food center, complete with a conveyor belt (donated by the fire department) to help move the boxes along.

“Since last Friday, we’ve distributed about 40,000 pounds of food,” she said. 

Since last Wednesday, Johnson said, the Salvation Army has gone from a Monday-Wednesday-Friday program to five days a week.

“We emptied our food pantry right away,” she said. “Our drivers have been going back and forth to the food bank.”

Johnson said that word is starting to spread about the expanded services. Tuesday, the army distributed 140 boxes of food during its busy period (9 to 11 a.m.), which served 667 people.

Each box, Johnson said, will feed three people for five days. If there are more than three family members, more food will be added to the boxes.

The army is doing this with limited staff, she said.

“We’re social distancing while volunteering and packing,” she said. “We could use some more volunteers, as long as they call us first.”

Some of the staff members from the adult rehab in Saugus have helped, she said.

“We could also use donations,” she said. “We provide staples, but if anyone wants to donate snacks, or hygiene items, that would be wonderful. Cash, too. We could use that for things like gasoline for the trucks.”

To donate online, go to salvationarmyma.org/fill-the-food-pantry.