The Feeding of the 5000

Image Salvation Army Volunteers Feeding Evacuees

With eight shelters throughout Dallas and Tarrant Counties, The Salvation Army is tasked with feeding hot meals, three times a day, to an average of 5000 evacuees of Hurricane Harvey, displaced by severe flooding in the Golden Triangle of southeast Texas (Beaumont, Port Arthur, Orange).

“The Salvation Army is one of four agencies (American Red Cross, Volunteer Now, North Texas Food Bank) united for such an event as this,” explains Captain Richard New ICO for this event response in the DFW Metroplex Area Command.

Image of Captain Richard New

Captain Richard New is the Incident Command Officer for the DFW Metroplex Command’s massive feeding program at eight shelters in North Texas.

“The way this emergency disaster played out,” he adds, “this is like a satellite operation from the actual devastation that occurred some 300 miles away—and that’s because the mass evacuation had to come to someplace like here, where we’re logistically prepared.”

Evacuees, volunteers of all participating agencies, and all First Responders are given healthy, tasty meals prepared by first by local restaurants, and then supplemented by Salvation Army associate-vendors who are very equipped to meet the need.

Image Salvation Army Personnel Feeding Evacuees

Salvation Army personnel are making sure no one goes hungry at the mass shelter in Fort Worth, TX.

The Salvation Army’s response has been timely, Captain New says of the operation which includes not only the evacuees in mass shelters at convention centers in both Dallas and Fort Worth, but several smaller shelters in the area. The Army is also prepared with “shelters of last resort” in Waco, Tyler, and Temple, if they are needed.

FEMA has paid for hundreds of families to stay in hotels nearby, and so the Army is feeding some 700 people each day who are not actually staying in the mass shelters.

The problem early on, Captain New admits, is that as the folks were pulled out of the Golden Triangle, we couldn’t know exactly when and where.

“For instance, we’d get a call that says ‘there’s a plane on the tarmac at Love Field’ or ‘there’s a couple of bus-loads coming up I-45’—but that’s why they call this an emergency,” he says, chuckling.

On a personal note, this is Captain New’s first plunge back into the deep end of the pool of ministry—coming off a kidney transplant several months ago!

“Four weeks ago, I could not have done this,” he says, “but the transplant was completely successful and today I feel like a new man. I needed to be involved in something like this to prove to myself that I’m back!”

The Dallas mass shelter is at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center.

“The public has been overwhelming in their compassion with the hurting people here,” marvels Major Jon Rich, DFW Metroplex Commander. “Just yesterday players from the Dallas Cowboys came to help and to cheer up evacuees and volunteers. We also have many corporations that have stepped up to the plate—for instance, we needed underwear for the evacuees, who mostly showed up with just the clothes on their backs. One of our Advisory Board members has a friend at JC Penney, and we just got a huge shipment of underwear sent to us. Little things like that go a long, long way!”

Image of Civic Center Filled with Cots

Just one section of cots set up for everyone to get a good night’s sleep.

The mass shelter in Fort Worth is at the Wilkerson-Greines Activity Center. It also is a beehive of activity. A husband-wife team is among dozens of Salvationists ministering there.

“It was a very emotional atmosphere here the first night the first evacuees arrived,” says Karen Bilbrey, a soldier of the Dallas Temple/Irving Corps. “The stories of survival, loss, and separation of these families is heartbreaking. But the people here are responding to how the country is reacting to their plight. That is a truly heartwarming thing to witness!”

Karen’s husband, Casey, is also in awe at the resilience of people in this disaster.

“To show the love of God in the think of the chaos brought on by Hurricane Harvey is what being a Salvationist is all about,” Casey says as he peels an orange for a little boy.

Image of Casey Bilbrey peeling an Orange for a Child

Casey Bilbrey does whatever is needed to help families sustain some measure of normalcy during mealtimes.

Karen points out that volunteers at both mass shelters are lining up to help.

“Some of our volunteers were involved in some way with Hurricane Katrina,” Karen says, while she serves two children, JJ and JeAnna, their breakfast of waffles and sausage links. She told of at least two Salvation Army workers who were relocated from New Orleans during Katrina and ended up in Fort Worth.

“Others,” she says, “were sent from the Superdome in New Orleans to the Astrodome in Houston, and eventually made new lives for themselves in southeast Texas.

“Now they’ve lost everything (again!) and have to start over, most likely in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

“But they’ll do it…we’ll make sure of that!”

— Major Frank Duracher, Assistant Editor