Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Joplin: Day 8 Kitchen Chronicles

When you become a volunteer for the American Red Cross, you get an opportunity to pick your specialty. We have many specialties that we do during a disaster: sheltering, feeding, damage assessment, staffing, and casework, among others.

You can pick one specialty - or you can multi-train, like I have. Multi-training allows you to have more of an opportunity to deploy during a disaster, if that's what you're looking for.

Here in Joplin, I'm classified as "Feeding." However, I've taken it a step further and many years ago, I became ERV-certified. An ERV is our Emergency Response Vehicle, and a volunteer must go through training on how to drive and operate an ERV.

I love ERV driving. I think it's my favorite activity to do.

Here in Joplin, we have ERV's from all over the country stationed at what is known as a "Kitchen."

Just some of the ERVs we have here in Joplin - with my truck, the Little Rock, AR truck, up front. Am I from Little Rock? No...but it just happens to be the truck I'm assigned to.

Our Kitchen is located at a small Baptist church in Joplin, where a group of Southern Baptist volunteers prepare two delicious hot meals a day.

A typical day in a Kitchen goes as follows:

The Baptists (always in bright yellow shirts) get up super-duper early and begin cooking the food...a meal usually consists of a main course (such as spaghetti), a vegetable (green beans are popular), and a dessert/fruit (pudding or peaches, usually).

The Kitchen is outside and under tents, and it's quite an operation to watch if you ever get an opportunity.

Once the food is cooked, it's placed in these large red containers called "cambros." Each ERV is assigned a number of meals to take on their my case, I'm loading up 125 meals, which could mean up to 6 cambros on my truck.

A stack of cambros waiting to be filled...with the Kitchen visible in the background. That guy in the Blue Hat is the head boss of the Baptist crew.

While the Baptists are cooking, the ERVs all assemble in the parking lot, where we line up and begin loading other supplies.

Rolling the ice across the parking lot to the ERV

My partner, Bob, bringing clean drink cambros to our ERV. We'll load this up with coffee.

Besides ice and water, we're all grabbing boxes of snacks, silverware, napkins, etc off of giant semi-trucks and loading the ERV's up. The semis may have cookies, potato chips, and other snacks - and each ERV crew grabs what they think they'll need for the day to distribute to the clients.

If we get done before the food is ready, we can grab a few minutes, sit on the back of our trucks, and shoot the breeze, like Gary and Walt are doing here:

Around 10:00 am, the head honcho of the Baptist group, known as the Blue Hat, will announce that we're ready to line up the ERVs and load the hot food. All ERV crews jump in their rigs and form a straight line so we can load - assembly-line style:

Each rig's food is on a pallet; the pallet is wheeled over to the back of the ERV and everyone jumps in to help, loading as quickly as possible:

Once you're loaded, you take off and go to your pre-arranged may be a zone in a neighborhood, where you cruise the streets and serve anyone and everyone you find...this is known as Mobile Feeding. Or - you may go to a location, such as Joplin High School, park in the parking lot, and serve from there. This is known as Fixed Feeding. Sometimes, an ERV will take food to a shelter or police station and leave the food behind - known as a "drop."

In Galveston, for Hurricane Ike, I did mobile feeding. Here in Joplin, I'm doing fixed feeding at Red Cross Headquarters.

Once lunch is served, all ERVs head back to the kitchen - throw away trash, clean out their rigs, and begin the process all over again, only THIS time, for dinner.

Long days. Physical work. In the sun on hot asphalt.

But many friendships formed and many stories told as we labor to serve others.

That, my dear readers, is what it's like to work on a disaster for the Red Cross - when you're an ERV crew assigned to feeding.

Not sure why I love it like I do, but I do. Something about being a truck driver - we're a little crazy, but we have big hearts.




Mental P Mama said...

I remain in complete awe of what you are all doing. In awe.

KimberlyDi said...

I think what you are doing (and everyone with you there) is amazing. And it gives me hope that if I ever get to the point that I can retire from my job, that I can still find a purpose to be useful and needed.

And thanks for taking the time to blog your experience when I know you have to be exhausted. Big hugs to you. :)