One of Salvation Army New London’s most-visible community outreach ministries is its Emergency Disaster Services (EDS) program, including mobile unit “Canteen 1.” It can often be found at large incidents related to fires, accidents, transportation, hazardous materials, police, floods, and other natural disasters such as hurricanes. This full-service "kitchens-on-wheels" contains a cooking area; freezer; refrigerator; prep area; serving area; cooler; coffee maker; and comfort items like warm socks, blankets, hats, sanitary kits, and more to assist victims and emergency responders alike. It also includes standard emergency vehicle equipment such as lights, sirens, and radios to communicate with emergency officials.
The all-volunteer EDS team responds to incidents in New London County, as well as other parts of Connecticut and surrounding states when needed. They provide food, beverages, personal comfort items, and emotional and spiritual support to emergency responders and any members of the public that have suffered losses or been affected by these incidents. Often those served, especially the general public, are not aware of this ministry that Salvation Army carries out on a regular basis. Local firefighters, police officers, and emergency medical personnel have come to expect Canteen 1 at large incidents and public events, whether it be providing a warm cup of coffee or hot chocolate and meal, snack, or sandwich, while in warmer weather, a cool bottle of water or soft drink. They also welcome someone that understands their situation to talk to, whether it is about response protocols or God, during oftentimes very stressful and emotional situations. Once we arrive, we truly are the last to leave.
Through the many years of their services, the EDS team has formed bonding friendships and working relationships with many public, private, and volunteer agencies and organizations throughout The New London County area, as well as the rest of the state of Connecticut. These important relationships have been developed through regular emergency responses and by participating in the meetings, trainings, planning sessions, and other events of the various agencies the EDS team is invited to participate in. EDS Director Robert Heal, himself a volunteer, states that “forming these working relationships ahead of time, and meeting emergency responders before an actual incident, helps us to know who we will be working with and what functions everyone performs before an emergency strikes.” He goes on to say, “This aids in making emergency situations, which are often hectic and fast moving, flow more smoothly as everyone knows what is expected of each other.”
EDS Director Heal knows the importance of such details. He has been in the fire service both as career and volunteer for 38 years. Bob's career has seen him serving as the local emergency management director in 2 area towns for over 15 years. He has also served as a police officer, fire marshal, EMT, instructor, and in several line officer positions. His knowledge and experience helps guide the other team members to safely and effectively assist wherever they can. His love of cooking, coupled with experience gained at the firehouse and other small local kitchens, adds another valuable skill that is often put to use on the road, as well as in The Salvation Army’s New London Corps kitchen.
The Salvation Army of New London's EDS team has a rich history of serving not only in local situations, but also at some of the Nation's most prolific moments. Among some of the many situations this EDS team and Canteen 1 have served at include 9/11 in New York; the Sandy Hook tragedy; several local police standoffs and shooting incidents; various large mill, commercial, and apartment building fires; marine rescues and searches; as well as town flooding. This canteen and its volunteers were also put on standby for service to Massachusetts after the Boston Marathon bombings. The canteen has also been used for police, fire, and other memorial services and funerals.
Currently, the New London EDS team is recruiting volunteer drivers and team members to supplement its existing ranks. Drivers get the canteen to the scene safely, operate radios and equipment, maintain the vehicle, and serve as team leaders in the field. Some experience operating large vehicles, a valid driver’s license, available time, flexibility, and some prior military or emergency services experience is helpful. Other needs include participants who will cook meals and serve the first responders at the site where services are to be rendered.
Team members can be called upon to respond to emergencies, cook, serve and prepare food, assist with emergency shelters, provide emotional and spiritual support, as well as a wide range of other tasks. They should be mobile, in fairly good health, team players, personable, caring, flexible, and able to sit or stand for long periods. Other help is also needed with fundraising, administrative tasks, maintenance, food preparation and monitoring, and other non-emergency tasks. The team is usually available for emergencies 24/7 for most of the year. This underscores the immediate need for additional drivers and members to help. Training is provided.
The vehicle known as Canteen 1 is a 1998 Chevrolet Grumman step van that was donated when new. Despite the team’s best efforts, the vehicle has recently started to show its age. The vehicle has not been able to be used for several recent calls because it has had to go out of service several times due to mechanical issues, electrical problems, rust, and deterioration. A good portion of these issues are related to being stored outside, especially during cold weather and other type of unsavory weather conditions.
Donors are starting to be solicited to sponsor the purchase of a new, more updated vehicle, as well as a benefactor that could donate a local indoor parking space with some security, heat, and electricity. This is critical for keeping the existing vehicle in service as long as possible and making sure a potentially new vehicle in kept in as good of condition as possible. Funding for the New London EDS ministry is provided through donations, grants, endowments, and other contributions made directly to Canteen 1 and the New London Salvation Army EDS program. Donations go to providing food, supplies, fuel, vehicle maintenance and upkeep, comfort items, office supplies, and other things relating to serving those in need through our ministry.
For more information on the New London EDS program, volunteering, or in-kind and monetary donations, please contact EDS Director Bob Heal or Captains Jose and Melissa Borrero at (860) 443-6409 or email canteen@SANewLondon.org. Information can also be obtained through their Facebook page (The Salvation Army-New London, CT), website (
www.salvationarmyct.org), or by stopping by the New London Corps at 11 Governor Winthrop Boulevard in New London.
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