Lynn Teen Doing the Most Good

Like many high school juniors at Lynn English High School, Carlos Prudencio had to adjust to a new daily routine when classes were cancelled starting in March. Because of the community disparities that exist in poorer communities like Lynn, school assignments are limited and Prudencio has only received a few remote-learning lessons, making this break seem more like a mini-vacation. While community service hours aren’t a requirement, this motivated 16-year-old couldn’t sit home and do nothing during the COVID-19 pandemic. When he learned about a volunteer opportunity at The Salvation Army in Lynn through a connection with Youth Without Borders, he jumped at the chance to give back. Together they got a group of four dedicated friends to help out. 

“I knew there was The Salvation Army downtown, but I never knew what they did or how much they helped our community, especially since COVID-19,” said Prudencio. “My buddy told me they were looking for people to help make emergency food boxes, so I’ve been volunteering 3-6 hours a day for more than a month.”

Many of the clients that The Salvation Army in Lynn saw prior to COVID-19 were already one paycheck away from needing additional emergency assistance, so the increase in needs for assistance and volunteers never came as a surprise to Captain Kevin Johnson.

“We’ve gone from seeing around 60 families a day at our Salvation Army Food Pantry to more than 500 every day, Monday through Friday,” he said. “We’re packing up tens of thousands of pounds of food every day, but it wouldn’t be possible without the help from dedicated volunteers like Carlos.”

Because of safety protocols, The Salvation Army in Lynn now offers a drive-thru food pantry and they’ve transformed their newly renovated gymnasium into one of the Massachusetts Division’s 6 Emergency Disaster Services Feeding Hubs. Prudencio is one of many volunteers making emergency food boxes, while social distancing in an assembly line. Hundreds of boxes line the walls of the gymnasium, proudly displaying The Salvation Army shield with the tagline “Doing the Most Good.” Every box holds canned goods and fresh produce, providing up to 35 meals for a local family or for communities that have been identified as needing additional support.  

“I’ve learned that you have to include sauce if you give them pasta,” Prudencio joked. “People need to know about the services that The Salvation Army provides. The world is a tough place, but they are there to provide assistance and emotional and spiritual care. Our community is resilient.”

Prudencio’s family is proud of their strong Salvadorian and Honduran roots. While they don’t receive assistance from The Salvation Army, he is reminded that the situation of his family and others in Lynn could change at any time. Prudencio’s mom is a single parent raising two kids in a community where many immigrant families struggle. Lynn is a very diverse community where many individuals rely on social services and assistance.

“People are always questioning my decision to volunteer during these difficult times and I remind them…if I stay home, who will do this? I’ve learned that The Salvation Army truly cares about feeding and our community needs them.”

Thanks to the generous support from local sponsors and donors, The Salvation Army’s Massachusetts Division has now distributed nearly 1.7 million meals since March.