Vail Valley Salvation Army volunteers are ‘getting out there and getting it done’
Churches, businesses and volunteers of all stripes come together to keep struggling residents fed
The local Salvation Army is located in Avon, but its “soldiers” are busy across the valley.
“We are truly an army of soldiers that are not afraid right now,” volunteer board chair Anne Barnett said. “We’re getting out there and getting it done.”
With the help of generous donors, local businesses and volunteers, the Salvation Army is providing food, toiletries and other essentials for people in need. With more and more people and families needing help getting food during the coronavirus pandemic, the Salvation Army’s important mission is needed now more than ever.
While the Salvation Army happily accepts donations of food and other items, the best way for people to help out is to donate money. The nonprofit is able to do more with dollars and buys food for cheaper prices, and all of the food dropped off requires volunteers to sanitize items, sort and store.
“We’re only limited by the resources we have, so if we have more, we help more,” said Barnett, who lives in Edwards and has been with the Salvation Army for about 15 years. “But right now I think the story is more about the beauty of our community coming out in droves to help. People want to help. That has been overwhelming to me, the generosity of this community.”
The Vail Valley Salvation Army is seeing about 50 people a day, volunteers say, as well as delivering to people in quarantine.
‘The churches stepped up’
When COVID-19 restrictions started coming down, local churches started stepping up to help the Salvation Army. The Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration of Vail helped set up and manage the volunteer sign-up.
Most of the first volunteers were members of other churches, Barnett said. Members of the Vail Church jumped in to help with a large Costco pick-up.
“The churches stepped up right away,” Barnett said.
Local businesses donate food
With willing hands in place, the Salvation Army was ready to bring in food, and distribute it.
The ownership team at The Ritz Carlton Bachelor Gulch are regular supporters of the Salvation Army, but Barnett reached out to prepare for the onslaught of food requests.
“He said, ‘Give me 20 minutes,’” Barnett remembers. “He called me 20 minutes later and said, ‘Your truck will be arriving Wednesday (April 1).’”
The truck had 400 boxes of canned food, 400 boxes of hygiene products and “cases and cases” of water. There were also some Snickers bars in there. The donors also volunteered to help move boxes.
“Hey, when you hand a kid a bag of Snickers, they are pretty happy about that,” Barnett said.
Another longtime anonymous donor sent $4,000 to help the Salvation Army get meat from Costco.
“He said, ‘What can you buy with $4,000?,” Barnett recalls. “So we called Costco and put together this huge order.”
Members of the Vail Church know, as they were the ones who picked it up. They collected “140 units” of meat in early April, with another 140 units coming a week later and another load next week, too.
“Our freezers are full to the very top,” Barnett said.
Vail Resorts swung by when operations closed with “three huge flatbed trucks.”
“They completely filled out refrigerators to the top with fresh product,” Barnett said. “And they’ve done that another two or three times.”
Four Seasons in Vail dropped off a lot of goods. As has Juniper, Main Street Grill, Hovey & Harrison, Etown and many other local restaurants and hotels donating food instead of throwing it away.
Volunteers staying busy
With food coming in, Salvation Army volunteers have been busy.
Greg Osteen used to run the Salvation Army and now manages Vail Valley Cares, a local thrift shop. The thrift stores are closed, but Osteen is trying to take care of his staff while also asking people to hold onto items until it is safe to donate them. Along with his general manager, Ryan Leingang, they are splitting time volunteering at the Salvation Army, alternating days throughout the week.
“Salvation Army just does such good stuff and takes care of so many people,” Osteen said. “We’re just kind of tag-teaming it, trying to get the stuff we need to get done for the stores done while at the same time helping them out.”
Osteen and Leingang are helping with putting food baskets together, handing out baskets and taking down information.
“Whatever needs to get done to get the food out to the people who need it,” Osteen said, adding he’s brought his wife and daughter along to help as well.
Erin Boselli and her family are also lending extra hands to the Salvation Army. When their T-shirt shops closed, they decided to volunteer more of their time.
Along with her son Sean, 16, Boselli has helped with making deliveries, among other things.
“It was pretty amazing. You’re not supposed to have any contact with them, so you leave the boxes at the doorstep, knock on the door and then high tail it out of there,” she said. “We got to see faces through the windows, so that was pretty cool to do”
‘Keeping us all together’
With volunteers coming and going throughout the week, a constant face has been Valerie Woodbury.
The local has lived in the valley for 40 years and has shown up every day for over three weeks, although we’re hearing she might have had a much-deserved day off by the time of this publishing.
“I don’t know where she dropped out of the sky from, but God literally dropped Val Woodbury,” Barnett said. “I don’t know what touched her heart, but she just walked in the door and never left.”
Woodbury has been helping with food prep, sorting and anything needed on a daily basis, including wiping down and sanitizing the building.
“Valerie is the one that is just keeping us all together,” Osteen said.
“I like giving back,” Woodbury said. “I’ve lived here for 40 years and giving back to the community is great. There’s a lot of people in need right now.”
Woodbury has worked in various restaurants in the valley over the years and knows how to preserve food. She also volunteers with WorldVentures Foundation, helping children across the globe.
“It’s just nice to be able to give back,” she said. “I’m not a person who likes to sit around, so to be able to do something productive and give back to the community is rewarding, and I am grateful I can do that.”
The Salvation Army is always looking for more volunteers. Visit http://www.salvationarmyvail.com to donate or get more information.
“Honestly, I get about four or five phone calls every single day,” Barnett said. “Friends, neighbors, donors — just calling to ask what we need. It touches my heart because everything is so sad and gloomy, and then people are calling and asking, ‘What can I do? I’ll show up. I’ll put a mask on.’”
‘Everybody knows Tsu’
While the Salvation Army Vail Valley has its soldiers, it also has its general — Tsu Wolin-Brown.
“Everybody knows Tsu,” Osteen said. “People love to help Salvation Army and help Tsu out because they know how hard Tsu works to take care of the community.”
Along with Barnett, the two longtime local women are helping lead the charge.
“They do a great job taking care of our community,” Osteen added. “They’ve done it for so long, everybody loves them. They’re just great people and love this community. It’s part of their heart.”
With Woodbury spending more time around volunteering, she’s seeing firsthand the leadership of the Salvation Army.
“I can’t speak more highly of them,” she said. “They’re both personal friends. I never realized how much they do. These women put their heart and their soul into this. I thought I knew them, but I didn’t know how much they really care, and the amount of work they do. There’s a lot of people that need help right now, and I’m just glad we’re all coming together.”
For more information or to donate, visit http://www.salvationarmyvail.com.
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