The November sun had set over icy streets before the skinny, little boy in a gray hoodie and sweatpants ran out of an old, single-wide mobile home. He stopped at the window of a parked van. Salvation Army Maj. Trish Simeroth sat at the wheel while a Montana State University student put a warm package in the child’s hands. He dashed back inside, clutching the fresh-cooked dinner of barbecued chicken, mashed potatoes and vegetables.
The tall, white Salvation Army vans are a familiar and welcome sight in Billings’ trailer courts, city parks, downtown motels and low-income apartment complexes. It was a slower-than-usual night when the editorial writer and Lt. Tim Simeroth followed a Community Table van on its route. Only 280 meals were distributed by the two vans. The Community Table usually serves between 350 and 500 meals per night.
Two vans go out six nights a week to serve dinner to the homeless and those who are hungry at home. Hot meals are offered on four nights, sack lunches on Wednesdays and Saturdays. On Sundays, the faith-based charity offers a biscuits and gravy breakfast and a hearty lunch after worship at its community center, 2100 Sixth Ave. N. That’s also where the meals-to-go are prepared every other day of the week.
The van routes include the Community Crisis Center, where a dozen adults quickly lined up by the Salvation Army van. Several more people came out of the center’s lobby, and Maj. Simeroth handed a large, paper grocery sack of packaged dinners to a security guard for late night patients.
The vans move slowly at each stop, honking at every house and corner where meals previously have been picked up. The Community Table relies on the help of several volunteers each night. Many are students; others have been helping for years.
Carol and Dan Vaughan are regular Thursday volunteers. Dan drives, and Carol keeps the sealed meal trays organized. They’ve been delivering meals since 2010.
“We volunteered to help after the tornado at Metra and they sent us to Salvation Army,” Carol said. “We’ve been delivering meals ever since.”
The policy is one meal per person, but a family member can get a dinner for everyone in the household.
“We want to make sure everyone gets a balanced meal,” said Lt. Simeroth.
Along with food, the vans distribute socks, gloves, hats, blankets and coats as needed.
Most Gazette readers are in warm homes and we are certain that we will have supper tonight. The Community Table provides food security to our neighbors who otherwise wouldn’t know where their next meal is coming from.
Thanks to the Salvation Army and their volunteers for taking meals where they are needed every week of the year.