Fundraising for Fish: Shelter Works to Save Health-Promoting Friends

The Salvation Army Bell Shelter's Aquarium in Southern California

The following was contributed by Guest Blogger Kathy Lovin, Public Affairs and Communications Manager – Salvation Army’s Western Territory.

In study after study, researchers find that people who watch fish in an aquarium can experience surprising health benefits, such as a decrease in blood pressure, muscle tension and pulse rate!

For instance, one study found that tanks full of brightly-colored fish in the dining room of the memory care unit at a convalescent center increased Alzheimer’s patients’ nutritional intake. That’s why the staff of The Salvation Army’s Bell Shelter in Southern California is trying to raise money to save their 300 gallon saltwater fish tank.

The Bell Shelter is home to about 300 to 350 residents at a time.  It’s the largest homeless shelter West of the Mississippi and is located in a converted 40,000 square-foot hangar formerly used as a U.S. Army Air Base. It costs about $200 to $250 per month to feed the fish and clean and maintain the Bell Shelter’s tank. And that’s only if everything’s functioning properly.  When a pump or a light needs to be replaced, the cost goes up.

But Paul Wager says the expense is worth it.  He should know; he’s the Bell Shelter’s on-staff psychotherapist who helps the residents get their mental health needs met.  Of the homeless population, Paul says between 30 – 50% have legitimate mental health issues.

The tank is in the main hall of the shelter in a high traffic area.  There are benches along the opposite wall so folks can sit and gaze at the fish to their heart’s content.  There are about two dozen fish in all, including clownfish, damselfish, dottybacks, basslets, and anthias.

Paul says the tank has a calming effect on the residents.  Watching the tank allows them to relax and take a mental vacation from the challenges in their lives.  The fish are such a part of their daily routine that many name their favorites and stand in front the tank to wait for them to swim by every day.

On Friday, September 16 Bell Shelter held a barbecue fundraiser to “Save Nemo and His Friends.” Staff and volunteers bought tickets for lunch and an opportunity drawing that will hopefully bring in much-needed funds so they can keep the tank. They want to give the fish a permanent home while they help the residents ease the transition into a stable, long-term home of their own too.

Click here for a link to a fascinating a research paper on the health benefits of companion animals – including fish!

Click here to learn more about the Bell Shelter.

Check out Kathy’s Blog at www.SalvationArmyExpectChange.org!