The Pasadena Salvation Army Tabernacle Corps may be just one of the international faith-based organization’s 56 social service agencies throughout Southern California, but to Capt. Terry Masango there is a unique urgency to its local mission.
Masango is betting big on Pasadena, eager to serve the community in which he lives and meet an ever-growing need, one that he has seen explode in the past four years as leader of the local center. He and the agency’s California division are exploring the possibility of expanding the facility’s campus at 960 E. Walnut St. to double the number of families and individuals they serve through food assistance, after-school programs, case management, weekly meals, recovery assistance, homeless services and myriad other social services.
Under the plan, the current campus — a combination of church, gymnasium, open spaces, small offices and classrooms — would be partly demolished to create a cohesive, state-of-the-art facility capable of providing more and better services.
“The idea is to really transform what we have now — we would be a one-stop shop for people to have their physical needs matched,” said Masango, sitting down to discuss the facility’s future. “Not only would we provide those basic necessities, but we could also provide counseling and case management, as well as life-skill classes such as budgeting, grooming, preparing for job interviews … things we simply just don’t have space for currently. The growth would mean we are making a bigger impact on our community.”
The Salvation Army has been active in Pasadena for some 100 years, with its world-renowned brass band this year celebrating a century in the city’s annual Rose Parade, and over the years, the organization has expanded local programming to meet the needs of individuals, families and children who are struggling financially. More senior citizens are also suffering food insecurity as they struggle with rising costs of living on a fixed income, he noted.
“The demand has been steadily increasing over the last three years, in particular,” said Masango, attributing the heightened demand to soaring housing costs in the area.
As one of the largest international nonprofits, assisting about 23 million Americans annually and serving 130 countries around the world, the organization has been able to create more partnerships and procure more resources than it has capacity for at the Pasadena location. Currently, the agency counts on many small closets and disjointed rooms for storage.
“The supply of resources has doubled this past year, especially the number of ‘gifts in kind’ from stores, which is a wonderful feat, but we need to turn this around because a lot more people in the community are asking for help and we just don’t have the capacity,” he said, adding that the delivery trucks can’t even fit into the parking lot to unload.
Pasadena’s Salvation Army meets a critical need in the community. It provides a safe space for after-school care for 150 children through the Police Activities League during the week, as well as evening sports programs. It provides back-to-school shopping and supplies for about 250 children in need in August, as well as a weekend backpack meal program for 300 Pasadena Unified School District students. Separately, the organization has created a hugely successful collaboration in October called Homeless Connect, a full day of 45 services, including haircuts and medical and dental checkups, all on the Salvation Army campus. During Thanksgiving, the group distributes more than 400 meals to homebound seniors, and another 400 meals at the facility. In December, the Salvation Army provides nearly 4,000 children with toys.
While the agency also offers a food bank Monday-Friday from 9-11:30 a.m., the rooms are difficult to navigate and furnish with the industrial-size freezers and refrigerators or even shelves to stack items. People have to line up outside with no shade on blazing hot days or in the rain, Masango said. With expansion, they could create a “Client Choice Foodbank,” where families can choose food with a shopping cart to move down the aisles.
Providing food and filling basic needs for families or individuals who need help is personal to Masango. Growing up in abject poverty in Zimbabwe as a child, Masango recalled the feeling of having to go to school hungry, trying hard to concentrate with a rumbling, aching stomach. His family was homeless for two years, couch surfing wherever they could, and he vividly remembers the other children laughing at the holes in his tattered clothing.
“I know what poverty is, I went to bed hungry many nights,” Masango said.
Things got worse as he got older with an abusive, alcoholic father; so much so, that Masango was ready to commit suicide at 16. Around that same time, he signed up for a Christian camp at school. It taught about hope and God, and Masango decided he wanted to learn more about that before killing himself. While there, however, he met others who were struggling as well, and he found strength in praying with them, never looking back on those dark thoughts. He met positive adult mentors who were happy, in successful marriages, and helped him see a way out.
Eventually, he went to university and supported his younger siblings, who came to live with him for many years.
“I’m living proof that if someone invests in someone else, he or she can rise out of that. I rose out of that; I was able to do it through a lot of support from the Salvation Army. I went to school. I have a good life, good marriage, good family. I have all that because somebody somewhere saw that a little kid was hungry and provided for him,” Masango said.
Now, giving that opportunity to another child or adult is what fuels Masango’s drive at the Pasadena Salvation Army. Expanding and modernizing the current facility will better serve that purpose to reach even more families.
“I love what I do because I get to be a witness to watching lives transform,” he added. “By supporting families and the children of those families, they’ll turn around and become good citizens tomorrow, so they will thrive and want to give back, too. These children will return to be our teachers, our pastors, our policemen.”
To learn more about the Salvation Army Pasadena Tabernacle Corps and its vision to help serve more people, visit Pasadena.salvationarmy.org, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (626) 773-4400.