The volunteers from Southern Baptist Convention’s Disaster Relief Mobile Kitchen Unit usually work fluidly and with a sense of urgency.
But on Wednesday, with thousands of lunches already made by 10 a.m. and dinner started, there was a lull in the action and many of the volunteers were waiting to see if their temporary base in Niskayuna would be turned into a shelter for those once again displaced by flooding.
As the rain fell steadily and flood warnings appeared on a television screen at the far cafeteria wall of Trinity Baptist Church on Balltown Road, leader Karen Smith — called a ‘blue hat’ — gave instructions to prepare for incoming flood victims and to be ready to make more food.
“We’re usually like a well-oiled machine, but we haven’t been making as many meals as we normally do, mostly because there are still people that can’t be reached,” Smith said.
Volunteers from Southern Baptist Churches all over the country partner with the American Red Cross to cook hot meals, cut down damaged trees and remove waste for victims of natural disasters. Those who aren’t mobilized make up kits filled with essentials and toiletries that can be handed out to those in need.
The 31 people from Kentucky’s Mobile Kitchen Unit were called in by local American Red Cross representatives over the weekend and arrived in time to cook meals on Sunday. Trinity Baptist Church donated the space, where the volunteers are staying.
“We practically invade a place when we come, so we’re grateful,” said Smith, of Shepherdsville, Ky.
Members, mostly retired people, volunteer their time and fund the trip themselves, paying for their own gas, meals and any needed spending money. A long, recreational vehicle-type unit traveling with them contains showers and laundry facilities.
They live out of suitcases and sleep on blow-up mattresses, sometimes for months at a time.
Smith said it isn’t that bad. “You’re so tired when you go to bed at night, you can sleep practically anywhere.”
Each unit has the capacity to cook 40,000 to 50,000 meals a day, but the one in Niskayuna is currently cooking about 8,000 meals a day or less for the greater Capital Region and beyond.
About 500 meals per trip are taken in
emergency response vehicles by trained Red Cross volunteers to the needed areas, according to Emergency Response Vehicle Coordinator Jamie Bonner, who plans routes and communicates with drivers. Each meal can maintain temperature inside the truck for 12 hours.
Using 14 ERVs, volunteers bring food to Schenectady, Schoharie, Montgomery, Albany, Delaware and Greene counties twice a day.
But there are still some areas that are impassible, said Bonner, citing Delaware and Greene counties.
With the continued threat of flooding, Smith said, her team is preparing to ramp up meal production.
So far, volunteers used American Red Cross donations to order 65,378 pounds of food, which made thousands of lunches and dinners over the past four days. Bowman Orchards and Bimbo Bakeries have donated another 2,000 pounds of food: apples, cider, bread and baked goods. Smith is in charge of creating the menus, coordinating volunteers and overseeing the cooking process.
She has no idea how long they will be in the area, but the average time is two weeks to a month.
This particular Mobile Kitchen Unit has been to 12 different states from North Dakota to Vermont since January. Smith and her husband have followed the unit to at least five of those locations.
“God called me to do his work,” Smith said.
The Southern Baptist Convention Disaster Relief had units dispatched to New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina and New York City after Sept. 11. They were stationed at each location for more than three months.
“It’s just great to be able to give back,” Smith said.
The local community is welcome to volunteer with the Mobile Kitchen Unit. Those wishing to do so must bring a hat and sign in at the front table.
For more information visit www.kybaptist.org.