Escondido, CA

Doing the most good: Salvation Army triples efforts during pandemic

Lt. Denise Litreal and staff person Dave Lucus in the Corps kitchen on last Friday, March 27 preparing the food boxes for the Silvercrest seniors Friday Night Dinner food boxes. After the food is packed in to-go style boxes they deliver these to each of the seniors apartments. They served 75 seniors last Friday.

The Salvation Army Escondido Corps has more than redoubled its efforts in the time of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Times-Advocate reached out to Lt. Denise Litreal, who with her husband Mark operates the Escondido Salvation Army “corps” at 1301 Las Villas Way.  The Litreals arrived in Escondido June 26 of last year. They have two other full time employees at the Salvation Army. The rest are volunteers, and range in number from 5-15, depending on the day.

COVID-19 has had a major impact on their work. “What we are doing is offering our social services Monday-Friday,” she said. “What that means is emergency food and non-perishable food items are distributed 9 a.m.-4 p.m. They ring the doorbell on the church office side  and we let them in our lobby.  We limit the number of people who can come in at a time.”

They take their name, phone number and size of the family. “We make a box based on the size of the family. They can come once a week,” she said.

The Salvation Army has always offered the Feeding San Diego Monday and Friday food programs. “We go to different grocery stores and do recovery of food that is about to expire,” said Lt. Denise. Supplies are low now. “So we have had to reach out to hotels, such as Marriott, that have closed their facilities and restaurants—to get food. We are getting some from grocery stores but it is less. Some have nothing.”

Donations of food are always welcome. “We like those foods to be fresh: vegetables and meat for Mondays and Friday. The rest of the days we can do the nonperishable food items,” she said.

On Wednesdays the Escondido corps has always served the seniors who live behind the Salvation Army parking lot in the Silvercrest low income affordable housing facility. These seniors can take care of themselves, but they are part of a population vulnerable to the virus. “We operate that all the time for ninety-eight seniors,” she said. “During COVID-19 we have been taking groceries to them on Wednesdays, delivering door to door. We have also been taking commodities such as soap and bathroom items because they are not supposed to be out in the community and these items are scarce. We also deliver non-perishable food items so they don’t have to go out.”

Mondays and Fridays they have been taking to-go-style meals made in the center’s commercial kitchen. “That is all in response to COVID-19,” said Lt. Denise. “In normal times we usually don’t deliver meals or groceries. This is a new service.”

From left, Cadet Charles Copeland, Lt. Mark Litreal, and Captain Nathan Darling. This photo was taken on March 21 in the Salvation Army gym. The cadet and captain are from the College for Officers Training in LA County. They are delivering emergency services supplies and food from the Salvation Army’s LA Bell Shelter Warehouse to be used in Escondido and in all of San Diego County.

They also continue to serve the homeless population as before with hygiene items, and ready-made food. “They know to ring the doorbell,” she said.

Another new program is SAM (Salvation Army Meals) for students who aren’t in school right now. These include five lunches and five breakfast items. “The parents bring some sort of proof that the child is in school, such as a report card, or a letter from the school, etc. We serve three hundred and eighty meals through SAM. It is ready made food that kids can microwave, plus sandwiches, fruit cups and granola. And shelf stable milk and boxed cereal that they can eat.”

The corps has also opened an infant parent diaper center stocked with diapers, baby wipes and baby formula. “We ask they bring the baby because those items are very expensive,” says Lt. Denise.

Besides looking after the needs of the body, the local Salvation Army doesn’t forget its primary mission, that of counseling and prayer. “We are here for that as well,” she says. Like the great majority of churches they have taken to the internet with their weekly services. 

“Our services are online,” she says. “We’ve never done this before. It’s a new thing for us. I’m laughing because I’m not very good at it.”

On the whole, the number of new services they offer have been “fairly successful,” she says. “At Silvercrest we have served 342 meals since March 16 and given 155 bags of groceries. We’ve given out 170 commodity items, and 380 SAM meals. We have given four cases of diapers, one case of baby formula and four cases of baby wipes, all since March 16.”

It IS challenging, she says, but it is part of her faith, “and you want to help people. We have a lot more that we are doing. We have always done things locally, but our services have increased three hundred percent. We have a lot more to do, but it is exhilarating because we get to serve people and do the most good. That’s what the Salvation Army does: do the most good.”

She concludes, “We want people to know that we will continue praying during this time. We are here for the community. We look forward to serving here —the Salvation Army isn’t going anywhere.”

To make donations, visit, which encompasses all of San Diego County. To make sure your donation goes to Escondido, click on that city. 

Lt. Denise of the Salvation Army, Escondido branch, who says that the services the nonprofit provides has expanded 300% since the advent of the coronavirus.

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