United Nations Staff Members joined with Give Them a Hand Foundation/ United African Congress and fifteen other volunteers on Saturday to staff the kitchen of the North Carolina Southern Baptist Disaster Recovery Team based on the grounds of the Aqueduct Racetrack/Resorts International Casino in South Ozone Park, Queens.
The North Carolina Southern Baptist Recovery Team presently has the largest food preparation operation in the Tri-State Area, having driven up from Down South with an assortment of trailers and equipment capable of providing sleeping quarters, water and sanitation for a staff of twenty and with the capacity to prepare up to 30, 000 hot meals per day. All their staff are here in New York voluntarily and at their own expense. They take time off from their jobs, stay for a week and are then are replaced by others from their organization. (How long will they be able to maintain that?)
They presently serve around 15,000 meals per day and will step up to more than 20,000 meals per day within the next few days as two other food preparation outfits are getting ready to cease operations..
Not much is known about the North Carolina Southern Baptist Operation in New York because they are rarely seen at the distribution end of the process. They work largely out of the limelight. Here in New York, they prepare the meals which are later distributed by the Red Cross under an arrangement they have made between themselves.
Our team of volunteers, including twelve from the Buddhist Light Temple in Flushing, arrived at the food preparation site at a chillingly cold 6.00 A.M. Volunteers were quickly briefed and signed in and within twenty minutes were hard at work in two main areas, sanitizing the food preparation and packaging equipment and preparing the foods that would soon be packed in large temperature controlled containers for subsequent dispatch.
These containers weighing as much as 80 lbs each, fully loaded were then loaded on to a convoy of 42 Red Cross trucks which would subsequently deliver the food to the various distribution points in New York and New Jersey where they would be met by Red cross volunteers whose job it was to share out the food to the needy in clam shell containers.
However, before that, after receiving the food containers, the trucks would move to another path flanked on either side by boxes of food supplies including boxes of bread, crates of water, boxes of clam shells, packets of cutlery, chips, crackers and other items. At each point volunteers would load the quantities of supplies requested by the drivers and attendants until the trucks were fully equipped and ready to set off. This entire process from food preparation to dispatch of the trucks lasted from 6.00 A.M. to 11.00 A.M. with a few breaks in between. Clean up took another hour and by midday most of the volunteers were able to go.
At the end of the day the organizers stated that they would never have met their goals for the day without the support of our volunteers. They added that in the thirty days that they had been in New York, this team was the best and most productive group of volunteers they have had.
One might be of the view that working in the kitchen instead of at the site of the devastation is a lesser service. That would be wrong. There are many people in these areas that wait for this one hot meal they will have for the day. They are still without electricity and they are still staying in shelters and in other people’s basements and still have nothing. It is a valuable service that is being provided.
As residents of New York and New Jersey we should really laud the efforts of the North Carolina Baptist Recovery group to aid our communities in this time of need. No one in their organization is paid to do what they are doing yet they were amongst the first responders to make their way to the area. They deserve the support of New Yorkers.
Thanks also to the UN staff. Special mention must also be made to the support given by the Venerable Chuah Chuen, Abbess of the International Buddhist Progress Society located in Flushing, Queens, NY. She is also head of the UN NGO, Buddha’s Light International Association. She and her members have volunteered on every occasion and though she and many of her female team members are slight in frame, they have tackled the most difficult tasks without a murmur. Her Temple’s support has been critical to the effort of our team.