Largest Salvation Army operation ever in LaPlace, serving 12,000 meals daily

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 21, 2005



LAPLACE — The Calvary has come to St. John Parish. Or at least the Army — the Salvation Army, that is.

The massive hurricane relief effort being headed up by the Salvation Army has now relocated from its Baton Rouge site to the old K-Mart Shopping Center on Airline Highway.

For those in the region who have wondered what the large operation is at that site, the Salvation Army signed a three-year lease for much of the shopping center next to New Wine Fellowship Church.

St. John Parish President Nickie Monica said he knew this parish would house some major relief efforts from Katrina, and quickly helped set the Salvation Army up over a week ago when he got the request.

“As soon as they called and said they needed a spot, I had Julia Remondet get our list of potential sites to them. We had to do some quick work to prepare the site, but this is the way I knew our parish could help those areas hit so hard,” he added.

“We’ll have them here for a long time, but it will help the rebuilding in the New Orleans effort in a big way.”

The relief effort has already begun to send out over 10,000 hot meals a day to the entire Southeast Louisiana region, and expects to be here for a long time to come.

Since they began weeks ago in Baton Rouge, they have now served over 1 million meals.

Maj. Ron Reyman, the local commander, has been involved with disaster relief with the Salvation Army for 25 years, but quickly agreed that nothing is comparing to this effort.

“No doubt, this is the largest thing, even bigger than last year when we worked in Florida for the four hurricanes in a row,” he said. “And we could be here as long as three years.”

Even though the initial phase of relief help sending out food and water will not go on forever, Public

Information Officer Mark Martsolf said the Salvation Army moves into a second and third phase of disaster relief that goes much further.

“After the initial help of food and water, we will then set up to help people with clothing needs and furniture to put a house back together. Then we continue with financial help on a long term basis, so the help we provide goes on for a long time,” he said.

The Salvation Army has 150 workers in town, but is receiving much needed support from the Southern Baptist Texas Convention (SBTC), which has provided 75 volunteers since they began a joint venture for disaster relief two years ago.

“We wanted to provide spirit filled help in these situations and once I got to know the Salvation Army people, we knew it was a great partnership,” SBTC Director Bill Davenport said. “We even created something in Baton Rogue called the Baptist Bologna Brigade to add about 20,000 sandwiches a day to the food going out. We expect to be here six to 12 months, not only providing much needed food, but also giving us an opportunity to minister to spiritual needs as well.”

Each day the operation begins at 4 a.m., with the food being prepared on site in something called the “Texas Kitchen,” that has the capability of making as many as 20,000 meals a day. Then each “canteen” heads out with small teams of Salvation Army workers to deliver the food throughout the region.

But the help has gone both ways. Martsolf said that when they had a truck with a bad tire on Sunday, the LaPlace Firestone not only changed four tires, but refused to take any money.

“They were amazing, and it has been that way all around since we got here. The hospitality here has been so welcoming, especially at First Baptist Church where they are housing us, doing our laundry and feeding over 200 people each day that we have here,” he added.

Reyman said the greatest challenge to conducting an operation like this seems to be the endless urgency to send out help.

“Everything was needed yesterday,” he said with a smile. “But we felt good about moving from Baton Rouge to this spot, and never missing a meal that we sent out. We’ve got some great people here and for now, plan to stick to about 12,000 meals a day. But as more people come back to the New Orleans area, we may have to increase what we are doing.”