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Conn. Salvation Army unveils mobile canteen

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. The Salvation Army kicked off the first day of hurricane season with a dedication ceremony for its new emergency mobile canteen.

The state-of-the-art van, rolled out at a Friday noontime ceremony in front of the City Hall Annex, replaces a unit used by the charity for two decades. Local volunteers drive the canteen to scenes where disaster-relief teams are deployed, such as fires or storms. There, they serve beverages, snacks and meals to both emergency personnel and victims.

"The new 15-foot canteen serves 4,000 hot meals a day," said Major Michael Sharpe, Bridgeport area services coordinator for the Salvation Army. "The canteen responds to fires and alarms from the area's fire departments as well as the State Police and other public entities. We respond to natural disasters in and out of state."

The Salvation Army volunteers, for instance, were on the scene in 1987 when the L'Ambiance Plaza apartment building collapsed while under construction. The local corps also were at Ground Zero after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks; traveled to the Gulf Coast for two weeks when Hurricane Katrina hit and responded to the aftermath of a fiery tanker truck crash on Interstate 95 in 2004.

Sharon Connelly, a volunteer dispatcher for the canteen, is excited about the more efficient vehicle. "There is more room, more storage space," and among its features includes "two coffeemakers, a convection oven and a six-burner stovetop."

The new canteen replaces a unit only 8 feet long, which the Salvation Army had "since 1989. It just outgrew the needs we had for it," said Richard Weston, the assistant director of the Salvation Army's greater Bridgeport area services.

The Salvation Army volunteers are directed by Anthony Gadsden, who was described by Robert Graether, the Salvation Army's Advisory Board chairman, as "an angel that walks among us."

Gadsden, a Salvation Army volunteer for more than 30 years, said that being able to provide some sort of help during emergencies like 9/11 was a privilege.

"Being at Ground Zero on day one was something you don't even want to dream about, a sight I hope I never experience again," he said. There were no lights or running water at the site of the World Trade Center wreckage, yet the volunteers were there serving meals to victims even in the dark and dust-filled atmosphere.

Before the Salvation Army chapter acquired the first canteen, Gadsden had delivered food to emergency scenes in a red station wagon for about 15 years.

The canteen is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week all year, and is housed in the city by American Medical Response.

"We rely so heavily on the Bridgeport canteen all year round. They [the volunteers] are there all year round at all hours of the night and during the hot summer days," said Deputy Fire Chief Robert Petrucelli. "The volunteers are a tremendous asset for the Bridgeport Fire Department and we greatly appreciate all of their services."

Also in attendance were emergency services personnel from area communities and Mayor John M. Fabrizi.

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