Salvation Army searching for a new home Unit squeezed by costs, lack of space

October 04, 1992|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,Staff Writer

The phone rings in Maj. Paula Meehan's cramped office at the First Evangelical Lutheran Church.

The caller has no money to pay for her prescription and thought the Salvation Army might be able to help. Major Meehan tells the woman she'll stop by the pharmacy on her way home and pay the $30 for her medication.

Requests for food, shelter, clothes or medicine are routine for Major Meehan, who heads the Salvation Army's Howard County Service Unit. She knows there are people living on the edge in a county where the average price of a town house is $150,000.

What she can't understand is why others seem to believe that the state's second-wealthiest county is immune to poverty.

"People on the outside wonder why you need the Salvation Army in Howard County," Major Meehan said. "People think that everything is wonderful and that people don't have money problems here. That's far from the truth. The problems are just harder to see because they're spread all over the county."

Though the Salvation Army is best known for coordinating the county's annual food and toy drive during the Christmas and Thanksgiving holiday seasons, the service organization has been year-round presence in the county since February 1991.

Running a one-woman operation out of the Ellicott City church office, Major Meehan serves about 40 clients each month, providing emergency money for food, rent, utilities and medicine.

But the Salvation Army is facing a problem that many of its clients confront -- the high cost of living in Howard. Major Meehan has been looking for permanent office space for a year and a half, but hasn't been able to find anything affordable.

She says the Salvation Army won't be able to provide its full range of services, including Bible-study classes and youth programs, without a permanent office.

She's managed in her church office -- which the Salvation Army rents for $25 a month -- but needs a larger space to accept donations of food, clothing and furniture.

First Evangelical has donated the church's youth room for Major Meehan's use to coordinate the holiday campaign and set up the toy shop. But after the holidays she'll continue her search for a new home for the organization.

"We need a place with an identity, for people in the county to have a place to take clothes by or make a donation," Major Meehan said.

Right now, she's gearing up for the holiday campaign, which served 660 county families last year, as well as taking care of people who come to her for help with daily emergencies.

Other local human service agencies regard the Salvation Army as a key player in the delivery of crucial services, especially the holiday giving program.

"It's a very labor-intensive program," said Andrea Ingram, director of Grassroots, which runs the county's only homeless shelter.

"There aren't other agencies who can drop what they're doing and do what the Salvation Army does."

Because of the recession-driven increase in demand for Salvation Army services here, Major Meehan has had to reduce from $100 to $50 the amount of emergency money provided for each client visit. In addition, clients are eligible for help every six months instead of every three months.

While the faltering economy has created a greater need for Salvation Army services, donations to the organization have fallen off for the same reason.

"In the past year, people have gone from being contributors to having to ask us for help," Major Meehan said.

Many seeking help either don't qualify for financial help from the government, or run out of monthly benefits before the bills are paid.

Frequently, the Salvation Army works with as many as eight other local human service agencies, each group contributing $50 toward a security deposit or rent for a homeless client or someone who's about to be evicted.

The Salvation Army will begin accepting applications for its holiday giving program on Oct. 13. Individuals or businesses wishing to adopt a family for the holidays should contact the agency by Nov. 1. For information call 465-0588.

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