Salvation Army EDS rolls out new vehicle for new needs
By: David Ibata
When Hurricane Michael walloped the Florida Panhandle and south Georgia last October, The Salvation Army’s Emergency Disaster Services team learned valuable lessons about food and logistics.
“We worked closely with Operation Barbecue Relief, which set up a massive field kitchen,” said Jeff Jellets, EDS coordinator for the Southern Territory. “We found out that while central field kitchens could produce tens of thousands of meals a day, getting the food to the places where they were needed became a challenge. We really needed more capacity.”
The Army needed a different kind of rapid response unit. That’s the four-wheel-drive truck, the little sibling of the mobile feeding unit (canteen), capable of entering places inaccessible to larger vehicles due to damaged roads, downed trees and other obstacles. Rapid response vehicles usually don’t cook meals but deliver food prepared elsewhere.
The Southern Territory gets them from Craftsmen Industries of St. Louis and its Schantz Manufacturing subsidiary, which design and fabricate custom mobile kitchens for the fair and festival market, canteen services and institutional kitchens industry.
“After Hurricane Michael, we invited Craftsmen engineers to an EDS meeting of multiple divisions in Florida,” Jellets said. “We took one of the older rapid response units and said this is what we like, but fix this, and improve that. Out of that meeting, Craftsmen came up with design specs for a new unit. We reviewed them and gave the go-ahead to build a prototype.”
The vehicle is a modified Ford F450 diesel truck with a mobile food module behind the driver’s cab, fabricated out of aluminum and stainless steel, bolted to the chassis, and clad in striking new “Hope is on the way” red-and-white Salvation Army Emergency Disaster Services graphics. According to John Warren, account executive of Kitchens Anywhere, a brand of Craftsmen and Schantz, the vehicle has a 16,500-pound payload, holds 550 bottles of ice water and up to six gallons of coffee, comes with a Class 4 hitch, and can be ordered with various options including emergency lights. Turnaround time from order to delivery currently is eight weeks.
The Georgia Division is trying out the new model. If all goes well, it will soon be available for purchase by other divisions.
“Essentially, we’ve doubled the (food) capacity,” Jellets said. “If an older unit could serve 1,500 meals a day, these new units should serve 3,000, minimally.”
Both sides of the truck open for storage and service. One side has drinks in bins lower and shallower than previously, so a person can more easily reach in and retrieve a bottle of water. The other side has food containers on extending shelves strong enough to support the weight of food trays set up in a buffet line.
“Another nice thing about the new unit is instead of serving people through a window, you’re standing outside and having direct interaction with survivors,” Jellets said. “As they step up, you can fix them a plate and talk to them.”
Two volunteers can handle the food serving, leaving officers free to provide spiritual and emotional care. The truck also has more space for emergency supplies like cleanup and hygiene kits.
The Georgia Division has 21 canteens, and the new prototype is its first-ever rapid response vehicle, said Lanita Lloyd, divisional disaster services director.
“In Georgia, a lot of our land is rural, or it’s along the coast,” Lloyd said. “You’re looking at areas with lots of salt and sand. This vehicle is four-wheel drive and it’s smaller than a canteen, so it’s made to go into areas a canteen can’t necessarily go.”
Lloyd said she also appreciates the greater food-carrying capacity, and the strong shelves that reduce the need for heavy lifting. An anonymous donor provided funds for the prototype and four additional rapid response units. “This is really an exciting time for Georgia, to be able to supply our communities with vehicles that can reach rural areas and responders and survivors of disasters.”