After an hour-and-a-half long community meeting about the future of the Salvation Army in Sedalia, very few questions were answered but one thing was made very clear: big changes are coming for the organization on the local level.
About 20 frustrated community members, including city and county officials and nonprofit directors, gathered Friday morning at the Salvation Army’s building at Broadway Boulevard and Engineer Avenue to hear from Salvation Army Maj. Phil Aho, of the Midland Division, which is headquartered in St. Louis.
Some community members have known for months, but Aho made it publicly official during the meeting that the building he was speaking in will no longer be used by the Salvation Army effective Sunday, June 26 after the last worship service, as part of a change from a Corp to a Service Center in Sedalia.
“The difference between a Corp and a Service Center, the biggest part of it is a Corp is always assigned a set or one officer who is leading the full mission of the Salvation Army. The mission is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs in his name without discrimination,” Aho explained to the group. “… A Service Center is, as much as the resources allow it to, does virtually the same work of a Corp and most of our Service Centers tend to work in the area of social services and community development work and any specialized services and programs the community needs which the Salvation Army is able to address.”
Aho noted that this transition from a Corp to a Service Center is rare, indicating the organization has done its due diligence and has found no other viable options. He gave one example, that the Sedalia location hasn’t paid its own insurance for years and the Midland Division has footed the bill.
“Our ability to address needs is predicated on the resources that we have available in the community. (During previous visits) I showed the financial resources available to Salvation Army in Sedalia for a number of years, and we had a 12-year analysis, has not been sufficient for the operation of a Corp,” Aho said. “We’ve tried various different strategies within the Corp over these past at least 12 years to address that need, and with considerable financial resources from the Division have attempted to make a Corp sustainable in Sedalia. We have come to the conclusion that it is not.”
The Salvation Army has been in Sedalia for 130 years and operates a soup kitchen, church and related ministries, offers emergency financial assistance, thrift store vouchers, household item assistance, emergency disaster assistance and Christmas assistance and visits with nursing homes and youth, but Lt. Jared Collins, who with his wife Lt. Tonya Collins operate the Sedalia organization, said many of those services have been “minimized” in recent months due to those financial troubles.
Aho said the Salvation Army plans to sell the building at Broadway and Engineer but will keep the Thrift Store on Ohio Avenue in downtown Sedalia, as it is operating “phenomenally well,” Collins said. The new Service Center will somehow be incorporated into the downtown location to consolidate operations.
Aho continually commented that the Salvation Army is “not leaving, but changing in a way that is more sustainable.” Those changes also include “farewell orders” for Lts. Collins, as they have been reassigned to a different Missouri city.
Beyond those announcements, Aho offered few details regarding how the Salvation Army in Sedalia will operate. One employee who was present even asked if she will have a job at the end of June, and Aho didn’t have a clear answer, saying they will hopefully be able to tell employees their fate by that last week.
“The question will be, what goes on in the Service Center? It’s a very good question,” Aho said, replying to his own question with a vague answer. “My answer to you is, we don’t fully know yet. We do know that what the Salvation Army does in Sedalia through the Corp , we are looking at it now and putting together a description, assessing what we can do through the Service Center.”
After Aho explained the changes, the first question came from Mayor Stephen Galliher regarding what plans are in place to help the roughly 50 people who utilize the soup kitchen each day.
“That is a concern to us and you rightly bring up that subject. We’ve talked about possible ways it can be addressed, whether it be the Salvation Army or another entity or location,” Aho replied. “We’re very interested to see if we can be of help some way so those who are fed continue to be fed. Our issue with that has been the operation of a Corp with a building, it has not been sustainable for us, we’re just not able to operate a Corp with a facility where we can host that.”
Many from the nonprofit sector in attendance repeatedly brought up the question of why more plans aren’t in place when the facility will be closing in 30 days and talks have been going on since November. Aho gave similar replies each time, stating that processes for these types of situations are lengthy with the Salvation Army and must go through the chain of command, and that discussions are happening at Division and Territorial headquarters to come up with solutions.
“We’ve got to get rid of the words ‘maybe’ and ‘it’s a possibility.’ For a little over six months now, we’ve been saying let’s put something on paper how we can transition these services so we’re not in this crunch for 30 days,” said Staci Harrison, Executive Director of Sedalia-Pettis County United Way. “… It should be clear what services Salvation Army is going to provide Sedalia and there should be a plan in place long before 30 days of the last service. Several of us here have come to the table saying we can be part of the solution.”
One of those solutions is to turn the soon-to-be-vacant Salvation Army building into an emergency homeless shelter. Members of a newly-formed Emergency Shelter Board were present and asked Aho for information about how much it would take to lease the building from Salvation Army until they can purchase it so there isn’t a gap in soup kitchen services.
Roxanna Parker, of the Pettis County Community Partnership and ESB, told the Democrat the board has applied for 501c3 status from the IRS and once that is received, the group plans to apply for several grants that, if they are received, would provide funding starting April 1, 2017, that would allow ESB to purchase the building and turn it into a shelter equipped with beds, a soup kitchen and a career center to help clients find jobs.
Aho and Parker will be corresponding next week to see if this plan is feasible for the Salvation Army.
After some periods of somewhat heated discussion between those present, Aho concluded the meeting, asking everyone to pray with him.
“Our Father, this is a room filled with people who love their community, they want to do right for it and with it,” he said, head bowed. “They are aware of the needs here in Sedalia … I ask you Lord that you bless each one who expressed what is on their hearts and what they have thought of. I ask you help us in the next couple of weeks as we find a way to move forward here in Sedalia. … Amen.”
Nicole Cooke can be reached at 660-530-0138 or @NicoleRCooke.