Salvation Army sends canteen to Florida

WENDY STIVER/THE EXPRESS Jim Gill and Nancy Brown, seen here loading a truck with supplies, are headed to a hurricane-lashed area in Florida with the mobile canteen from the Salvation Army in Lock Haven.

LOCK HAVEN — They get the call, and they roll. It doesn’t matter if it’s daytime or the middle of the night. They aren’t the first on the scene, but they are always welcome.

Such is the life of a volunteer with the local Salvation Army canteen.

Often seen dispensing coffee and sandwiches at the site of a raging fire or other disaster, two of the volunteers and the humble canteen truck from the Lock Haven citadel have hit the road Monday for a longer drive.

Today they may be serving food in a hurricane-lashed area of Florida.

Jim Gill, a retired truck driver who lives in Mill Hall, was behind the wheel. He and Nancy Brown of Lock Haven, a canteen volunteer for three years, left the Salvation Army parking lot Monday afternoon for Philadelphia. They were scheduled to meet up with two other canteens, from Lancaster and Boyertown. The three canteens were to arrive in Philadelphia with two volunteers each, then pick up two more, for a complement of four people per mobile unit. After spending the night in Philly, the 12 volunteers were to make the long drive to Florida.

Gill, a canteen volunteer for numerous years, seemed to look forward to the drive south, one he had made many times in his trucking career.

“I’ve seen every state in the union and three provinces in Canada,” he said while he and Brown buckled down food supplies inside the mobile unit.

Major Sharon Cupp of the local citadel stood outside the vehicle and reminded Gill to make sure nothing can tip over. “I know how you drive,” she said with a smile.

All three canteens from Pennsylvania were to arrive with enough food to serve 1,500 meals each — breakfast, lunch and dinner for 500 people. The volunteers will cook it all that first day.

On the second day, the now-empty canteens are to rendezvous with a Salvation Army mobile kitchen where the volunteers will fill up containers with meals and take them where they need to go.

The Lock Haven canteen is equipped with $2,000 worth of food the local citadel purchased for this operation. Once it is set up in a disaster area of the Sunshine State, it will serve oatmeal, cereal, dry milk, fruit, for breakfast, then chili and fruit for lunch, then either chicken alfredo or spaghetti for dinner. Coffee and tea are in good supply as well.

The local citadel got the call Sunday at 1 p.m. from Philadelphia and had the canteen and the two volunteers ready to go the following day.

Maj. Cupp said Lock Haven is part of the Salvation Army’s farflung, multi-state Eastern Territory, which is responsible for supplying one-third of the response canteens in a disaster of major proportions. Many canteens are already in Texas, so Lock Haven was called out for Florida.

“They always save the best for last,” Gill said with a twinkle of humor in his eye.

He and Brown are prepared to work long days, possibly from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. or later.

“It keeps you busy. Time goes fast,” Gill said.

“We serve whenever we get called,” Brown said.

They are deployed for 14 days on this Salvation Army mission, but the canteen is deployed for much longer. Gill and Brown will fly home in about two weeks, while two more Lock Haven volunteers head south to run it.

Maj. Cupp said she has heard community residents would like to send clothing, but the citadel has had to turn them down for now. The Salvation Army’s current focus is serving food to the disaster victims, she said, and right now, there just is not enough people-power to sort donated clothing.

Monetary contributions are encouraged, however. Checks may be dropped off or mailed to the Salvation Army, 119 E. Church St., Lock Haven, Pa. 17745. Write “Hurricane Harvey” or “Hurricane Irma” on the memo line.