HELPING NEW ORLEANS
After rushing his kitchen convoy of trailers and semis to Fort Smith, Ark., from La Grande only to wait there for several days, Ron Simonis and his R&C Catering crew experienced firsthand the organizational problems of getting aid to where it is needed following Hurricane Katrina's devastation.
Those problems soon became even more apparent.
Simonis finally received word he was to rush his kitchen down to FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) headquarters at the New Orleans Saints training camp. There, he was to set up his kitchen and feed anywhere from 2,000 to 4,000 National Guard members, assorted search and rescue teams and FEMA personnel who had commandeered the facilities for disaster operations.
After the all-night, all-morning drive from Fort Smith, escorted by emergency vehicles once in Louisiana, Simonis entered the New Orleans camp only to find another kitchen already in place, up and running.
Apparently another agency had already ordered a kitchen unbeknownst to FEMA.
R&C would have to sit tight and wait a little longer for the opportunity to do its part.
So after yet another couple of days of loitering, eating and watching helicopters come and go, the crew finally received another assignment.
This time there was no confusion.
They were to go down into the heart of the city and set up operations at the Convention Center near the Superdome, to feed National Guard members who were patrolling the city and whose numbers would be increasing.
The Convention Center had been the scene of some horrific incidents as thousands of flood victims gathered on this relatively high ground to escape the rising waters and found temporary refuge in the building that now had no plumbing or any other conveniences.
By the time of the kitchen's arrival, all refugees had been relocated, and the building locked down tight. Armed National Guard units patrolled the premises, keeping people from entering until the work of a major cleanup could take place.
The military camp is located on one side of the Convention Center. Some of the covered parking areas and storage areas were cleaned and used as sleeping quarters and offices for use by the military and emergency private contractors such as R&C Catering.
It would be a grave understatement to say that the military, who had been eating nothing but their trusty MREs prior to Simonis' arrival, were glad to see a kitchen roll into camp.
More than once the kitchen crew was informed by grinning, weapon-clad diners that guards at the gates had orders to "lock and load" if any kitchen personnel attempted to leave the camp.
Especially the cooks.
But there's no worry there. It took a lot to get to New Orleans. The R&C crew was ready to stay and work for a while.
UPDATE: The camp, including R&C Catering, is sitting tight through Hurricane Rita. As of Friday morning, those on scene reported the New Orleans area was expected to catch only the outer edges of the storm.
As of now the military has requested that the Simonis kitchen remain in New Orleans at least through Nov. 1.