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Donation helps Sally Ann feed hungry during emergencies

Donated mobile kitchen will allow Salvation Army to prepare and deliver fresh food during emergency situations and everyday operations.
Chilliwack Salvation Army food bank coordinator Don Armstrong shows off the new Community Response Unit with pride. This mobile kitchen will allow staff and volunteers to quickly prepare and deliver fresh food during emergency situations and everyday operations.

Salvation Army Chilliwack is well-known and respected for its food bank.

Every year, community groups fundraise or organize food drives to support this widely appreciated service.

Many people may not be aware of their role in disaster situations.

The Salvation Army Emergency Disaster Services (EDS) program provides on-call response to disasters across B.C. and beyond to feed emergency responders or those who are stranded without food.

For more than 20 years, when Chilliwack Salvation Army staff and volunteers received word of a fire, flood, landslide or other emergency, they would prepare, pack and transport soup and sandwiches from the Yale Road kitchen to the sites.

While they have plenty of volunteers who have been trained in disaster food services handling and delivery, their method of transportation often slowed them down.

"The old truck we had was a '68, and it was on its last legs," Armstrong explained. By the time they pre-cooked all the food, loaded it onto the truck, and managed to get the beater to start, valuable time was lost.

But in December 2015, an anonymous donor changed the way this service operates.

Armstrong had been talking to Salvation Army EDS director John MacEwan in November about a large trailer that a woman out on Vancouver Island was selling.

This 2013, 33-foot trailer, weighed in at 14,000 pounds. More importantly, it was equipped with freezers and fridges, a cooktop stove, two ovens, and four deep fryers.

"We were talking about how awesome it would be [to buy it], if we ever had the opportunity," Armstrong explained. But it was selling for $80,000, a price tag too steep for them to realistically be able to fund.

"Then - all of a sudden - it's on our doorstep," Armstrong said, evidently still in a bit of disbelief.

An anonymous donor, or group of donors, purchased the trailer and gave it to the Chilliwack Salvation Army.

"I'm not an excitable person, but man - that was exciting."

They ditched the old truck, decked out the new trailer with decals (including a four-foot logo on the roof for helicopter views) and put the beast to work.

Until the Salvation Army can source a one tonne truck to pull it themselves, the fire department has helped out towing the trailer out to disaster scenes thus far.

With the mobile kitchen, staff don't have to wait until all the food is prepped and cooked before they can depart to the scene. They get the call, load the truck, and go. They can serve more people in less time, all freshly prepared on-site.

Now among the top three Salvation Army vehicles in B.C., Chilliwack Salvation Army will likely be called to respond to disasters more often and to greater distances than ever before.

"Well, we've got the vehicle, let's get out there and use it," Armstrong said.

But responding to emergencies won't be this trailer's only purpose.

Armstrong says that there are plans to take this trailer out into the community whenever it isn't in use for EDS purposes.

They hope to serve those in need out on the streets in the evenings, to set-up monthly "school days" to thank local schools for the food drives they organize, and to set up as a weekend fundraising vehicle at events or out front of grocery stores.

"This will be a community effort," he said. "Because it's all full-circle. We help them and they help us."

He anticipates to start using the trailer regularly within a month, and is looking for opportunities and partnerships to put it to good use.

"I've been here for 32 years," Armstrong said. "And this has always been my dream -  to get something that we can bring out into the community to help."

As for why someone would make this incredible donation, Don says, "the only reason I can think of is that they know what we do. Maybe they've seen the old beater we had out there, and they saw the need for it."

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