Sunday, August 24, 2008

Bay Area sends volunteers to Denver

Three Bay Area Salvation Army volunteer teams from Concord, Napa and San Francisco leave early Friday for the 1,200-mile drive to Denver, where they will serve as part of a large disaster preparedness contingent at the Democratic National Convention.

Armed with three large, mobile, full-service kitchen rigs — they resemble those ubiquitous "roach coaches" — the dozen Bay Area volunteers are prepared to help feed thousands of evacuees in the event of a terrorist attack or other major incident that forces conventioneers to flee downtown Denver.

The teams may also serve meals and hand out water and snacks to police or other public safety workers involved in the many behind-the-scenes security measures.

The Democratic Host Committee estimates that 50,000 people will attend convention festivities, including 14,000 party officials and 15,000 journalists. National security planning also is under way in St. Paul, Minn., where Republicans will gather for their presidential nomination convention that starts Sept. 1.

"Conventions are important parts of our society, places where we are able to debate and choose our leaders," said John Primus, who will help fellow volunteer Richard Lueck drive the Concord Corps' mobile canteen to Denver. "Unfortunately, there are people who want to distract us from the process. Our purpose is to be there to assist the great local firefighters and police."

The Salvation Army, a Christian Advertisementservice organization and church, has a history dating to the early 1900s of providing aid and comfort during natural and man-made disasters, major public events and wars.

Many of the Concord Corps' 45 volunteers helped at the sites of the World Trade Center terrorist attack, Hurricane Katrina and the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. They also sent canteens and workers to help feed firefighters battling recent Northern California wildfires.

"We have a marvelous group of volunteers who respond sometimes at 3 in the morning to requests for help," said Maj. Clayton Gardner, pastor of the Concord Salvation Army church.

The Denver assignment is a request from federal and Colorado agencies for help from the Salvation Army, American Red Cross and Southern Baptist Church, said Ken Cavallero, the disaster director for Salvation Army divisions in Northern California and Nevada. Planning has been under way for months.

The Salvation Army is sending six of its mobile kitchen units from California and Arizona. They will be stationed at various points around the city.

The volunteers provide their time for free — roughly 10 days for the Bay Area folks — but government agencies will reimburse the charities for their costs, Cavallero said.

The canteens contain commercial-grade kitchen equipment and can accommodate three hot meals a day for thousands of people. Breakfast might consist of scrambled eggs, sausage and fruit. Lunch can be a pasta dish or sandwiches, and dinners vary widely.

If not needed at the scene, the Bay Area volunteers will spend the time training and networking with other volunteers.

"Everyone is preparing for the worst and hoping it will be the easiest event ever," Cavallero said.

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