Salvation Army brings kitchen to feed migrants

With thousands of Central American migrants arriving in El Paso, the Salvation Army has set up a field kitchen to feed them at a new migrant center opened by Ruben Garcia and Annunciation House.

“We’ve been working with the Salvation Army and this new facility for about 10 days now since it’s been up and running,” said Susan Goodell, executive director of El Pasoans Fighting Hunger.

The food bank is committed, she said, to meeting the needs of the migrants who’ve been staying at 10 churches, four hotels and, now, the House of the Refugee that Garcia opened two weeks ago in a former warehouse on the Eastside.

The Salvation Army has assisted in providing meals, three times a day, averaging near one thousand meals per day. In the first three weeks of April, Goodell said, the food bank provided 97,000 pounds of food to feed migrants whose arrival at the border is stoking political divisions in the country on one hand while pulling communities, nonprofits and churches together on the other.

“The new center is housing up to 500 a night now and will grow and be able to hold up to 1,000 migrants in the not too distant future,” Goodell said. “Having them in one location has been a real benefit to this whole initiative.

“We’re doing all of our work for free, which is a challenge for us because we’re bringing in tractortrailer loads of food from all over the country. I don’t think this refugee crisis is going to go away.”

With that in mind, El Pasoans Fighting Hunger has applied through the city for a federal Community Development Block Grant to build a large and permanent community kitchen.

“They’re a critical piece of any disaster relief,” she said. “I believe El Paso is the largest city in America without a community kitchen, which is not just about a disaster but feeding the most vulnerable people in any community.”

The Salvation Army has committed to keeping its field kitchen, contained in an 18-wheeler and capable of preparing 15,000 meals a day, in El Paso for three months, said Nora Aviles, the nonprofit’s disaster relief coordinator.

That commitment formally began April 15, but before that, the Salvation Army’s family shelter in El Paso had been preparing and delivering 120 to 300 meals a day to hotels where migrants were staying since Feb. 23.

They’re now preparing 1,200 meals a day, she said, and have turned out more than 8,400 meals so far.

The fare is cereal and bacon and eggs for breakfast; hamburgers, hotdogs and chicken tenders for lunch; and spaghetti, beans, rice and picadillo for dinner – though not all on the same day.

All that meal preparation is being done by one Salvation Army team leader and three volunteer teams from Lubbock and Granbury, a city of 8,000 in Central Texas.

“This will end July 15, and we will evaluate our resources and the need then,” Aviles said. “Our command will evaluate everything to see if we can continue to support this operation.”

The primary job of the Salvation Army’s mobile field kitchen is meeting needs in major emergencies.

“When hurricanes or other disasters happen, what we do is supply food for first responders and victims,” Aviles said. “We just cook.”

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