For the Herald-Standard
The Uniontown Salvation Army is making strides in achieving its ultimate goal of making connections after reopening for indoor lunches.
Sally’s Kitchen is meant to provide more than food, said Captains Erin Rischawy and Danielle Hopping. They said they changed the name to reflect that everyone is welcome, regardless of whether financial needs exist.
“I want to erase the stigma of the words ‘soup kitchen,’” Rischawy said. “We don’t want it to just be a place where homeless people come, or people who are down on their luck. We want it to be a place where we make a connection.”
They said the pandemic made it challenging to assess the needs of those who stopped by for to-go lunches.
“When people are in need, our job is to find out what the need is and what their story is,” Rischawy said. “I feel the more people get to know you and you get to know them, the more you have mutual respect. We’re all in this together.”
Hopping said some of their regulars come every day just to see friendly, familiar faces.
“There’s more than enough to go around,” Rischawy said. “We all have needs – we have physical needs, emotional needs, spiritual needs. There’s plenty to go around and you’re not taking anything away from anyone. We’re only adding here.”
For Hopping, who is deaf, connecting guests with disabilities to resources is a key part of her calling, she said.
“I’m always advocating for people with disabilities,” she said. “I’m always there to talk to them about what their needs are.”
Caseworker Alyssa Batronis said she notices when their regulars do not arrive.
“When someone doesn’t come, we worry about them just like we worry about our own families,” she said.
Batronis said she has seen a recent increase in need with the economic effects of the pandemic outlasting federal funding.
“I think the pandemic is effecting more people with unemployment running out and barriers to getting back to work,” she said.
She said more families have been calling to apply for holiday meals and for the Angel Tree program, which provides Christmas gifts to local children.
Local children are also served through the Love in a Backpack program, which provides weekend food to elementary students in the Laurel Highlands School District.
Hopping said they hope to expand the program next year to additional schools, which will require more funding. The program now serves 100 children and costs $20,000 per year.
“We need the community to help us,” Hopping said. “It’s so great to see the kids smile. We want to make sure the kids grow up healthy and safe.”
They are also looking for volunteers pack the backpacks with food on Wednesdays and to serve in Sally’s Kitchen early in the week.
For more information about participating, donating or volunteering, visit The Salvation Army Uniontown on Facebook or call 724-437-2031. Food donations can be dropped off at the Salvation Army at 32 W. Fayette Street in Uniontown. Clothing donations can be dropped off at the Salvation Army Family Store at 54 North Mount Vernon Ave., Uniontown. Food and monetary donations can be dropped off at 32 West Fayette Street, Uniontown. Online donations can be made at easternusa.salvationarmy.org/western-pennsylvania/uniontown/
To participate in the Angel Tree program, pick up a tag from the tree at the Uniontown Walmart. Gifts can also be purchased online on the Walmart Registry for Good at www.walmart.com/registry/registryforgood.