Salvation Army pleads for volunteers, employees

The Odessa Salvation Army has so few volunteers and employees they’ve called for a two-month moratorium on their soup kitchen and are in danger of not being able to open its homeless shelter during inclement weather.

Prior to Major Luis Melendez’s arrival in June 2021, the shelter lost several staff and volunteers during the pandemic. It also lost staff when the City of Odessa found several code violations following a bathroom remodel project and the shelter couldn’t fully open, Major Luis Melendez said.

It took several months, but the shelter is now up to code with a brand new fire alarm and suppression system, Melendez said.

“That’s what’s upsetting,” Melendez said. “Everything here is ready to go, but I don’t have employees.”

The Salvation Army has not been able to replace volunteers or crucial staffing positions for months. He is currently searching for a cook, shelter manager and shelter monitors. He’s also looking for a truck driver who can pick up donations for their thrift shop.

“For me, it’s incomprehensible that I don’t have a pool of folks or corporations or families or individuals that I can tap on and call in to help us. Everybody’s busy,” Melendez said.

The Salvation Army’s human resource director/office manager spent the last six months filling in as the cook for the daily soup kitchen, but because of her other duties during the busy holiday season, they stopped providing meals Nov. 1, Melendez said.

“This is our time for the coat drive, toy drive, Angel Tree, kettle collection,” Melendez said.

Up until Nov. 1, the soup kitchen was supplying dinner to anywhere from 12 to 30 people, Melendez said. While not all of them are homeless, many of them are struggling financially and “food insecure,” he said.

“We’ve got families with a lot of kids and they’ll come in with three, four, five family members,” Melendez said. “For them it’s either ‘Do I buy food and not pay my bills or pay the bills and let me get food at the Salvation Army because at least there’s supper here?’”

Nowadays, Melendez believes many of them are seeking help from Jesus House and other churches.

The City of Odessa has been allowing them to open an emergency inclement temporary shelter when the temperatures dip below 32 degrees overnight, Melendez said.

However, because of the staffing issues, they were only able to open five days last winter and they’ve already missed some opportunities to open this year, he said.

With overnight temps expected to dip overnight Wednesday, Melendez said he reached out to two pastor friends and they are trying to find volunteers within their congregations. If unsuccessful, the shelter simply can’t open, he said.

To make matters even worse, Melendez said he started out with two bell ringers this year, plus himself. Due to health concerns, he’s now down to one bell ringer and himself and due to his other obligations — which include interviewing job candidates — he’s only able to ring in the afternoons.

Last year, he and four bell ringers brought in more than $69,000 in donations.

He has jumped at every opportunity he’s been given to speak to civic groups and churches about the need for volunteers and staff, Melendez said. They’ve also sought help through the mail, Facebook and their website.

“A lot of people don’t know that behind the scenes or behind the shield I’m calling. I’m texting or emailing. I’m trying. I was told one time, ‘Well, you’re not asking enough.’ Well I’m asking until I don’t have a voice anymore,” Melendez said.

Melendez said even the Salvation Army’s advisory board, which should be 15-16 members, is down to six.

If there’s a coalition of churches and other nonprofits who help those in need, he’s unaware of it, Melendez said. Such a group would be wonderful, but he’s just too busy to spearhead such an effort.

The Salvation Army’s 10 employees are still able to run its utility assistance program, thrift store and monthly food bank, but it’s been difficult, Melendez said.

In 2021, nearly 2,300 people received assistance from the Odessa Salvation Army, whether it was food boxes, clothing and furniture vouchers, clothing or utility assistance, he said. Nearly 8,000 meals were served.

On top of that, hundreds of families received assistance during the holidays with food and toys.

Hiring attempts have not gone well for several reasons, Melendez said.

Some people have been unwilling to work for the wages they are offering while others can’t pass a criminal background check or are unqualified, he said. The few people they have hired haven’t bothered to show up on their first day.

They were excited about a shelter manager applicant in California until he demanded moving and housing expenses and $35 an hour, Melendez said.

“They want what I’ve learned to be is petroleum pay,” Melendez said. “We don’t have that. I’m going to be honest, we’re not competitive with even McDonald’s. We can’t pay $18 an hour. We are offering $11, $12 or $15 and $15 is at the management level…and that’s non-negotiable.”

They’ve had cook applicants whose only experience was feeding their own families. He showed one applicant their pantry and asked her how she’d cook for 40 people.

“She says, ‘Well, you would have to tell me. I don’t know,’” Melendez said. “So that’s a non-hire-able person.”

He’s been surprised by the number of people who have applied with criminal histories.

“You might ask ‘Why is the Salvation Army so strict,’ but we’re not strict. We’re flagging those who are sex offenders and people with arrest warrants. We’re not going to hire somebody who has an arrest warrant because then they’ll get arrested and we’ll have just lost an employee,” Melendez said.

He’s actually had two men apply for the truck driving position who didn’t even have driver’s licenses.

Want to help?

If you’re interested in volunteering at the Odessa Salvation Army, visit:

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