D.C. Thieves Steal Salvation Army Truck That Feeds Homeless
I volunteered for the "Grate Patrol" to serve warm dinners every night to those who won't sleep in the shelters
I volunteered for a decade with the Salvation Army’s “Grate Patrol”, which provides warm meals to the homeless in Washington every night. The program gets its name because the charity’s white van — called the “canteen” — stops to deliver food at sidewalk heated grate vents where the homeless often sleep. The canteen was stolen Sunday morning and just recovered by police.
Charity for homeless
Churches, schools and other community groups prepare hot meals 365 days a year. Volunteers then go in the truck at dinner time to pass out the food to the homeless who live in parks or on benches in the city. We would serve about 150 people each night and stopped at about 10 sites in downtown D.C. and along the National Mall.
The two Salvation Army professional drivers know most of the homeless on the streets by name and look out for them. I remember a driver asked one man if he had been taking his medication. Another driver asked a man why he hadn’t checked into a program recently.
The drivers pass out blankets, plastic bags, gloves, toothbrushes and other necessities. The staff was in total control, so I always felt safe standing outside the truck in the dark and serving. (Volunteer or donate here.)
I was always touched by the courtesy of the homeless who waited in line patiently for their meal— which was a bag with a sandwich, packaged snacks and a hot cup of soup. They all said '“please” and “thank you”, and many said, “God bless you.”
The homeless don’t always look like what you expect. When I started, I made the mistake of turning away a man in a suit because I wrongly assumed he wasn’t homeless. I was ashamed but learned that many of the people served have jobs but for various reasons (mental health, addiction) don’t live in a home.
Also, I was told that many who are homeless could live in the city’s shelters but thought it was safer on the streets.
When the temperatures were below freezing, the volunteers were told to call the city’s emergency line if we saw people trying to sleep outside. The city would attempt to force them to sleep in shelters or give them blankets and tents. (This was all before the massive tent cities that sprang up during the pandemic.)
My worst haunting memory of serving was when an emotional homeless man told the driver that his female friend froze to death overnight. The driver knew the woman. The man was distraught as he recalled his attempts to force her to put a blanket on herself.
I realized that the man had waited all day to tell the driver in order to share his grief with someone. I checked the news for a couple of days for a story about the woman’s death but never saw any mention of it.
Charity truck stolen, recovered
Crime is really bad now in D.C. Homicides are up 33%. Motor vehicle thefts — including carjackings— are up 90%. Remember thieves recently tried to steal Pres. Biden’s granddaughter’s Secret Service vehicle and only stopped when agents shot at them.
Still. You’d think a white van with a giant red “Salvation Army” logo would deter criminals.
Nevertheless, the grate patrol truck was stolen Sunday morning, which the Salvation Army said made it impossible to continue to serve the hot meals.
A spokesman for the Salvation Army told Fox 5 (which is the station where I was the chief investigative reporter): “It saddens our hearts that someone would get to a point where they felt the need to do that.”
On Monday night, I asked a D.C. police spokesperson for the status of the investigation. She replied that,