In June 2007, new Salvation Army Chicago leaders, Lt. Colonels Lonneal and Patty Richardson made history. They became the first African American Divisional Commanders to lead an area for The Salvation Army in the Midwest when they were appointed to oversee The Salvation Army Midland Division headquartered in St. Louis. Now this dynamic husband and wife team has come to Chicago focused on tackling some of the growing needs of disenfranchised communities who have been the victims of a double pandemic.
Lt. Cols. Richardson took over the reins of leadership for The Salvation Army Metropolitan Division, spanning from Rockford to northwest Indiana, last summer, at a challenging time. In their role, they oversee 28 corps community centers and 50 social service programs for The Salvation Army. While several programs have been paused since the start of the pandemic, many have adapted and expanded as the organization has seen up to a fivefold increase in need, particularly in requests for food and emergency financial assistance.
“People who never thought they’d need The Salvation Army have come to us,” Lt. Col. Lonneal said. “A number of people are living paycheck to paycheck. So, we need to be prepared for what will come to help them to restore their lives.”
The Salvation Army’s services will continue, especially as the full economic impact of the pandemic emerges. Lt. Col. Patty said partnerships will be important, especially in minority communities, in which the pandemic has had a disproportionate impact. She said advocacy among community leaders and lawmakers will also be important.
But, Lt. Col. Lonneal said the disease that’s killed hundreds of thousands of Americans isn’t the only challenge. He said our city is facing a twin pandemic: COVID and racial injustice.
“I think America has been on this 200-plus year journey of trying to develop a vaccine to deal with the racial injustice,” he said. “We can’t give up hope, because every time we feel we have found a vaccine that cures what ills us, we find that this pandemic too morphs into different strains and begins to once again infect our populations.”
He said The Salvation Army seeks to build bridges, and points to previous experience doing just that. Lt. Cols. Richardson led The Salvation Army Midland Division in St. Louis during the Ferguson riots. They were heavily engaged in the conversation about how to bring the community together, including pairing local youth with law enforcement for a weeklong summer camp.
Lt. Cols. Richardson were instrumental in the creation of the Ferguson Community Empowerment Center, a joint venture between The Salvation Army and the Urban League of St. Louis. The center, complete with after-school programming and services aimed at breaking the cycle of poverty, was built on the site of the QuikTrip gas station that was burned down during the unrest.
Lt. Cols. Richardson said building relationships will be key to trying to tackle both facets of the twin pandemic in Chicago. And they’re already getting started.
“We need to come together, put our best minds forward, to come up with how do we deal with this pandemic of racial divide in our country. If we don’t, we will once again be torn apart just as COVID has divided families, just as COVID has changed our world,” Lt. Col. Lonneal said. “It we do not come together and seriously attempt to create a more just and perfect union, then this pandemic will continue to divide, kill, and destroy us as a nation.”