Every night, a crew of more than 20 prepare meals from 2 a.m. until 7 or 8 a.m. when more than 20 Red Cross emergency response vehicles (ERVs) show up to pick up the food for delivery.
After all this time, the Red Cross is still handing out nearly 10,000 meals every day from those ERVs—every day except for Fat Tuesday. Local police asked the Red Cross not to deliver on Tuesday so as to avoid having the ERVs caught up any parade-related traffic tie-ups.
ERVs are a staple of the services the Red Cross provides. They are a visible part of disaster relief, rolling into neighborhoods affected by disaster and offering the basics—food, drinks, sometimes cleaning supplies and always smiles. In New Orleans, many of the ERV drivers are also brand new volunteers, working hard this long after the storm to serve the city's returning residents.
"I love it!" said Arnel Robertson of Anchorage, Alaska. "There is nothing like feeding people that need our help."
Robertson joined the Red Cross as a volunteer in September, shortly after Katrina hit and has been on the job in New Orleans since October.
Yard manager Leon Shaw of Kansas is another new volunteer whose past experiences made him invaluable on the job. A former transportation supervisor for the Air Force, Shaw said he was hearing so many different things on the news right after Katrina hit that he called his local chapter to volunteer for a three week assignment and see things for himself. He's been coordinating the ERV distribution since August.
"It's been the longest three weeks," Shaw said with a laugh. "It's been great, and all of this comes naturally." Although he hasn't been home since his stint began, Shaw shows no signs of wearing down.
"Its great work and I won't be ready to go until the job is done," he said.
Partners Support Feeding Effort
Richard Carroll of Storm Services LLC, a contracted firm that provides complete disaster recovery services following catastrophic events, has been running the kitchen since it opened in its current location on the corner of Annunciation Street and Melpomene Avenue nearly a month ago.
"We told the Red Cross, we'll be here as long as you need us," said Carroll. "We've been blessed with good help and good people, and the Red Cross volunteers are great doing their job."
Similar to Southern Baptist kitchens, Storm Services is preparing the food for Red Cross vehicles to deliver. According to Carroll, the operation is "so smooth sometimes its scary."
In addition to cooking, Carroll's team sometimes pitches in with serving meals from the ERVs to give volunteers some time off.
"They aren't certified to drive it, but they'll jump in the back and pass out the food if the Red Cross needs help," said Carroll. "People are real grateful and thankful for getting them the meals they need, and we try to cook as close to the Louisiana style as possible, so people respond that they feel like they are getting the next best thing to a home-cooked meal."
Carroll's team cooks for a local school, and they started out making milder versions of the meals until the kids requested hot sauce with their food. The day before Fat Tuesday, the Red Cross distributed jambalaya, which Carroll says is one of their most popular dishes. On the Wednesday after, smoked sausage with red beans and rice was on the menu.