Released 23 September 2008
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With the parking lot full at the Baptist Church in Bridge City, Texas, the cars began a line hundreds of yards along the street waiting to get in to get a meal from The Salvation Army/Kiwanis Canteen.
Penny Dotson, a Kiwanian from Stillwell, Okla., wiped the sweat off her forehead as she unloaded boxed lunches for the hundreds of people waiting to be fed.
"This is my first time serving on a Salvation Army Canteen," said Ms. Dotson. "I wasn't expecting how incredibly busy we would be. We've been constantly slammed with people who need food and water, and there's almost no downtime. I talked to one man who said this was the first meal he'd had in two days."
As the communities in Texas' Golden Triangle begin to pick up the pieces from Hurricane Ike, The Salvation Army is providing much-needed relief, food and support to those who returned to flooded and damaged homes.
MEETING THE NEED
More than 120 volunteers from eight states converged on Beaumont, Texas for The Salvation Army's Disaster Response operation, and the Texas-Oklahoma District of Kiwanis International is a vital partner in the operation. In one week's time, The Salvation Army volunteers have fed more than 128,000 meals in the Beaumont area alone.
A newly-formed partnership, The Salvation Army provides disaster relief training to Kiwanians throughout Texas and Oklahoma, and in turn, the Kiwanis respond in a moment's notice to deploy for two weeks during disaster response.
"I was trained for The Salvation Army a year and a half ago," said Ms. Dotson. "It sounded like a worthwhile project, and it's all about helping people."
THE BEGINNING OF A BEAUTIFUL FRIENDSHIP
The Austin, Texas, Area Command Major Dan New was the Incident Commander during The Salvation Army's relief efforts in New York after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Operating the relief efforts there took tremendous manpower, and New said sometimes the volunteers off the streets weren't qualified for the operations.
"It took 200 people a day to operate what we were doing after 9-11. If you said you needed volunteers, the flood gates would open and everyone came in," New said. "We discovered we were spending as much time putting out fires and sending unqualified volunteers home as we were serving. It became an issue."
After returning to Austin, Major New approached his administrative assistant Ron Kingsbury about a plan.
"I told Ron, ‘We need to do some serious volunteer recruitment and training, and we need to utilize those trained volunteers for disaster relief work,'" said New. "Ron took that letter to his Kiwanis Club in Austin, and that's where the interest began."
The idea of partnering with The Salvation Army spread like wildfire through the Kiwanis organization. The local group took the idea to the Texas-Oklahoma Division of Kiwanis who then took the idea to the regional level of the Kiwanis.
"They chose to make the volunteer disaster training a project. Right now, we have 300 trained Kiwanis volunteers in Oklahoma and Texas," said New. "Then the Kiwanis wanted to know what one of our mobile Canteens cost."
The Kiwanis decided to help purchase a disaster Canteen that they could man when the need arose. The Salvation Army's policy is if a local group raises 60 percent of the cost, then the Territorial Headquarters of The Salvation Army would put in the 40 percent.. For a $130,000 Canteen, that meant a lot of fundraising. "The Kiwanis started to raise money in the individual clubs throughout the Oklahoma-Texas Division. They made it a voluntary option to raise money," New said.
Carlene Campbell, Disaster Relief chair for the Texas-Oklahoma District Kiwanis, helped make the dream of purchasing a canteen a reality. "On Oct. 1, 2007, we raised the money and in March of 2008, we picked up the Canteen," said Ms. Campbell. "The Kiwanis Canteen was in service for the first time for Hurricane Gustav and now, it's in Beaumont being worked by our Kiwanis volunteers."
The Kiwanis Canteen is based in Tulsa, Okla. "The reason this works so well is that we have so much in common as an organization with the Kiwanis," said New. "We have the same principles, and now we have qualified volunteers who can be deployed for disaster response. And, that's hard work - that's grunt work. It's moving food and cooking and reaching out."
Because of the success of the partnership between The Salvation Army and the Oklahoma-Texas Kiwanis, a national trend may develop that would combine the forces of the two organizations in disaster and volunteer response.
"It's the start of something that works for everyone," New said.
Kiwanis Salvation Army Volunteers Provide Hope, Relief
"I hear some of the saddest stories," said Stillwell, Okla., Kiwanian Penny Dotson as she served lunch from The Salvation Army/Kiwanis Canteen in the hurricane-battered community of Bridge City, Texas.
"It breaks your heart when people tell you they haven't eaten in days or that they've lost everything."
Ms. Dotson, along with fellow Kiwanians Herschel Dotson and Nevin Starkey of Edmond, Okla., are into their seventh day of volunteering for The Salvation Army's Disaster Response Team in the Beaumont, Texas, area.
They serve well over 1,000 meals a day to Bridge City residents, and the lines continue to be long and desperate.
"I talked to a lady who said the water rose in her house so fast during the hurricane that they had to crawl out of the kitchen window to get out," said Ms. Dotson. "The water was waist high, and they all crawled into a boat under the carport of the house. There were four adults and six dogs, and they were really scared because of all the snakes and alligators swimming around the boat."
Nevin Starkey said The Salvation Army Canteen volunteers do so much more than serve food and water. They become grief counselors and comfort for residents in pain. "They want a hug and they want to tell you about what happened to them," said Starkey. "The first time I responded to a disaster with The Salvation Army, it was a shock seeing all the destruction and people without food or shelter."
As of Saturday, Sept. 20, The Salvation Army has served over 1.2 million meals to victims and first responders of Hurricane Ike throughout Texas.
"As we look ahead towards long term recovery, The Salvation Army will be there to provide support to the communities most affected by the storm," said Major Henry Gonzalez, Divisional Commander for The Salvation Army of Texas.