When it comes to disaster relief, the Charlotte County Salvation Army stays true to its national motto: “Doing the most good.”
Teams across Florida were deployed to the Carolinas Tuesday as Hurricane Florence strengthened and churned in the Atlantic Ocean. With the storm posing no threat to the local area, Charlotte County joined Salvation Army forces from Miami to St. Petersburg to Tallahassee.
“The Salvation Army prepares all year to be able to serve where needed,” Steven Hartsook, Salvation Army director of Emergency Disaster Services, said in a press release.
Locally, a canteen truck shipped out early this week. The truck will help provide hot meals to those who are displaced or lose power due to the storm.
“It can get into areas where a large food truck may not be able to get into because of downed trees or anything. It’s much more nimble,” said Major Ed Binnix.
Binnix got the call just a few days later to follow close behind. His unit will most likely be based at the Charlotte Motor Speedway.
“We work on a two-week deployment. If they call me to go, I have to drop everything. My wife’s going to run things while I’m gone, I’m working on the Sunday programs for church, arranging speakers to take my place. I have to make sure everything’s prepared so operations can continue smoothly here,” Binnix said.
“I’m going to lead an incident command team up there.”
The Salvation Army uses the same terminology and job description systems as the federal government, allowing for better communication with the Department of Homeland Security and other emergency response personnel.
As incident commander for all of Florida’s Salvation Army units, Binnix will oversee food distribution, deciding where trucks are needed, conducting meal counts and more.
“If the power’s coming on in a certain neighborhood, we may not need to go back there or, if another organization is serving there, we can help somewhere else,” he said.
“It moves a lot each day. You may serve 1,000 meals in one location on one day and not be needed at all the next, so it’s very fluid.”
Over a dozen units are being deployed from Florida and each has the capacity to serve anywhere from 500 to 1,500 meals every day, according to Hartsook.
“Based on Irma, which didn’t affect us terribly here, mostly power outages, we served 14,000 meals just in Charlotte and DeSoto counties. That’s not even considering what happened in Naples and Fort Myers,” Binnix said.
The meals are based on preset menus from major food distributors like Cheney Brothers and Sysco, and are intended to be easy to store, serve and eat.
“We try to do it simple — you don’t want to prepare a five-course meal in a disaster. You might do a beef stew because it’s got everything you need in it, serve it with some bread. Spaghetti, a little salad and a piece of toast. I call them ‘one dish wonders,’” Binnix said.
The Salvation Army is currently accepting monetary donations for the disaster relief efforts. Donations intended specifically for Florence recovery should be labeled as such.
“Every penny of every dollar goes to the disaster it was donated for,” Binnix said.
“This will be my 26th disaster. I started with Hurricane Andrew, I was at the Oklahoma City bombing, Hurricane Sandy, Katrina. I’ve done almost every job in disaster services. I love it, I love doing disaster work, I think it’s one of the most rewarding things I believe the Salvation Army does. I wouldn’t hesitate to go to any disaster I was called to work in any capacity.”