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Salvation Army Unveils New Disaster Response Unit

In the wake of a disaster, your next meal might not be the first thought that comes to mind – but when hunger strikes, the Salvation Army has that covered, too.

The organization will reveal a new custom $100,000 disaster response unit Saturday at the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Pittsburgh.

Michael Riemer, director for Salvation Army Emergency Disaster Services for Western Pennsylvania, said the unit basically looks like a food truck.

“This is a mobile feeding unit, it’s a mobile kitchen on wheels that goes out to disasters,” Riemer said. “And typically, here in Allegheny County last year, we responded to 144 of these disasters.”

According to Riemer, these disasters range from fires and floods to tornadoes and even sending aid during Hurricane Sandy.

UnitedHealthcare donated the new unit, and 70 volunteers from the company will march in the parade before the truck’s dedication ceremony at which Mayor Bill Peduto and Fire Chief Darryl Jones will speak.

Riemer said the Salvation Army’s other trucks are old – one even pushing 30 years – and this new unit has greater cooking capabilities.

“The disasters we go on, we’d like to be able to do more out of these vehicles,” Riemer said. “And whether it’s feeding ten or 15 people or a hundred people or 200 people, having the capability to do that in that vehicle – wanting to do it more efficiently – is important to get out there to the people and serve them.”

He said the trucks usually provide short-term relief for those in need of support, and the type of food they provide varies depending on the time of the call.

“If it’s going to be a late-night, early morning fire we might put some breakfast items on there, so bagels, coffee, hot chocolate, pancakes on a stick – that kind of stuff – lunchtime it might be some kind of sandwiches,” Riemer said. “Again when it’s really cold out, we like to make sure…we get some soup out or stew or grill hamburgers or hotdogs, so pretty much a full-service kitchen on wheels.”

But he said the volunteers do more than serve meals, and they racked up more than 6,669 hours of service last year.

“They’ve had training in dealing with food service preparation, emergency services, incident command, first aid and emotional and spiritual care,” Riemer said. “So when there’s a call that’s activated, the team leader calls the volunteers up, and they meet at the station to take the vehicle out.”