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Feeding the MASSES

With hurricane season upon us now, you may be wondering what measures have been taken at the local level to help feed those who may become Citrus County's next storm victims.

Whether the storm has a name or not, such as the infamous no-name storm that hit a few years ago, we have learned to take all threats seriously _ which calls for extensive preparation. When a storm does hit, there's everyone from Salvation Army workers to volunteer firefighters and church members who give of their efforts to help those in need.

But there is one religious denomination in particular that makes the majority of the emergency meal assistance a possibility on the local level, thanks to the help of a 40-foot mobile kitchen. The kitchen can be driven in and set up at a central location within 24 hours after a disaster hits.

This 40-foot cooking machine, which has 12 gas-burner units, sinks, refrigeration, water supply and generator, is known as the Florida Baptist Convention Disaster Relief Feeding Unit. The unit is stored at Lake Yale Baptist Assembly in Leesburg.

It is owned by the Florida Baptist Convention, according to Colan Dracy, coordinator for the First Baptist Church Disaster Relief Teams in Inverness. Dracy has been involved with the church disaster relief efforts since 1989.

He said the Florida Baptist Convention has an agreement with the American Red Cross, which allows this mobile kitchen to be used during a disaster.

"With this kitchen we are completely self-contained, except for the fact that the food is being supplied by the Red Cross. We carry 3,000 meals on board and once those meals are used additional food is supplied by the Red Cross," he said.

Marge Self, administrator of the Citrus County Service Center of the Florida's Coast to Coast Chapter of the American Red Cross, said that in cases where a stationary kitchen would not be as advantageous for relief efforts, that the mobile kitchen is priceless.

"If a hurricane hit this year, we would call on them. We can't tell them thank you enough for the work they do, they always do whatever they are asked to do," Self said of First Baptist's relief efforts and the aid of the mobile kitchen.

She said that after the food is cooked in the kitchen, the American Red Cross has Emergency Response Vehicles that can deliver the food.

During the no-name storm the ERVs delivered to places such as Ozello, Chassahowitzka and Yankeetown. She said that the American Red Cross spent $1.5-million and assisted 1,610 families in Citrus County after the storm.

Self said they recently had a drill after Hurricane Allison threatened to hit Florida, which helped them prepare for the hurricane season.

"We were a whole lot better prepared than we were for the no-name storm, but we still need more volunteers to help us," she said.

If you are interested in volunteering, call Self at 746-1930.