On Friday, May 31, Mission residents congregated at the Salvation Army Mission Corps Center for lunch. From 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m, senior citizens, as well as the homeless, could pay $2.50 for a hot plate of food at 1156 Valencia St. But not anymore.

The Salvation Army is currently downsizing, and is eliminating programs at the center to save money, according to the center’s case worker, Marline Molina. There has been no specific reason given as to why the organization is cutting back costs, but “I have heard a lot that donations are declining and that’s partially the reason why we’re downsizing,” Molina said.

Our messages to Salvation Army USA and Golden State Division were not returned as of press time.

Mission Corp services that will be terminated include the senior meal, an after-school program, as well as the weekly church service and bible study. The only service that will continue is the Friday food pantry. “We’ve been probably one of the heaviest hit as far as programs, staff, downsizing,” Molina said. The congregation was officially notified of the program cuts in mid-April.

Every table was filled with cheery attendees enjoying their plates of rice and beans with tortillas and a side of vegetables. They chatted in Spanish as laughter and friendly conversations permeated the building. The majority are Latinos who live at a low income level and rely on the affordable lunch.

For the past three or four years, Connie has been driving from Daly City to see the welcoming faces at the Mission Corps center. She initially came to bring her mother and father who live in the area, but “I started to like it here myself,” Connie said. “We’re going to miss it so much.”  

Hade Vargas has been a volunteer for 11 years and doesn’t know what she’s going to do now that the senior meal service is ended. Vargas has spent so much time with the regulars that she considers the center her second home. “I started volunteering here because I like to help out in the community. I’m so sad right now that today I’m going to go cry in my house. I can’t go right now because I’m going to feel sadder.”  

A year ago, Salvation Army Lieutenants Raymundo and Thelma Jimenez were stationed at the center and have taken on the bulk of the work; they are currently away on vacation.

The lieutenants, along with two other staff members, were responsible for running every program as well as taking care of administrative work. “After the full-time admin person had left they were doing admin, they were the pastors, they were in charge of the whole building; these guys were working like seven days a week,” caseworker Molina said. “They were told, ‘no budget  [so] you guys have to do all the work.’”

Mission Corps attendees are being encouraged to attend the senior meal at the Salvation Army Kroc Center in the Tenderloin. But Molina said the distance poses a challenge.

Longtime Mission resident Gloria, who uses a walker to move around, has been attending senior meals for more than 20 years. She will miss what she considers to be a family. “If someone doesn’t come in for two or three days, we miss them and they say, ‘where is Adelita, where is this person?’” she said.

She has no plans to attend the Kroc center in the Tenderloin, because “It’s too long for me and I think the Tenderloin is too dangerous.” Gloria has high blood pressure, diabetes, and survived two strokes but proclaimed God has gotten her through all of these tough ordeals. Faith in God is what Gloria believes will carry everyone through the program’s closure. “Look at everybody. You see, everyone is happy and saying to each other, ‘you are here, you are here!’”

After lunch had been served, the volunteer cooking staff brought out a white cake with blue and yellow icing that read, “God Bless!” A volunteer placed the cake on a table, then beckoned the attendees to come take a group photo in front of the pastry, signifying a bittersweet ending. “I’m going to cry,” the volunteer said with tears in her eyes.

The last church service will be held this Sunday, June 2, at 11 a.m.