Mobile Kitchen's Maiden Voyage Brings Relief to Louisiana Flood Victims
Written by Carrie Martin, special to the Red Cross
Pete Poole prepares to deliver Henry's Kitchen to Louisiana.

Baton Rouge, La., June 18, 2001   On Sunday, June 10 at 3 p.m., 64-year-old American Red Cross volunteer, Pete Poole, got the call a call he'd been waiting for since February. "We need you," the voice said, and Poole didn't hesitate. Within two hours he packed his bags, climbed aboard Henry's Kitchen, located in his home town of St. Joseph, Mo., and embarked on what would be the 53-foot semi-trailer's 14-hour maiden voyage to the rising floodwaters of Baton Rouge, La.: Pete Poole serving as skipper.

"Anytime the Red Cross calls, I do whatever I can to help," said Poole, who's been driving trailers on and off for the past 40 years. "The Red Cross is my top priority."

The newest addition to the American Red Cross Disaster Services fleet of response vehicles, Henry's Kitchen is designed to produce up to 10,000 meals a day in heavily impacted disaster areas. So when Tropical Storm Allison slammed into parts of Louisiana and Texas, the Red Cross called on Henry along with Poole to help feed flood victims, emergency response workers and Red Cross volunteers.

"I guess I'm kind of brand new, just like the trailer," said Poole, who only recently became a Red Cross volunteer when he heard there was a need for people with a commercial driver's license. "I knew I could help out," he said.

Henry's Kitchen can function in a stand-alone mode, or can be connected to community water and electrical systems. It carries potable water and wastewater disposal tanks, two propane tanks and a 50-gallon steam kettle, three 30-gallon skillets, two stacked convection ovens, a 50-gallon hot water heater, a two-burner hot plate, three stainless steel sinks, a walk-in freezer and refrigerator. The unit also carries a pressure washer, gas leak detector, a fire suppression system, plus heating and air conditioning systems.

Emblazoned with the recognizable Red Cross logo, it's an understatement to say that Henry's Kitchen makes a substantial presence. According to Poole, other truckers on the Interstate would contact him over the CB, saying "Hey Red Cross, where you headed?" Poole proudly answered, "To Louisiana to feed disaster victims!"

At stops along the way, curious travelers would approach him to inquire about the monstrous vehicle. "What's in it?" they'd say. "I'd tell them it was a kitchen and wound up giving a few tours," he said.

People also inquired about the vehicle's name. "Are you Henry?" they'd say. "No," Poole would reply, "but I can tell you about him."

Henry Fenn, a long-time, well-known Red Cross volunteer, passed away in 1999 while assigned to the Hurricane Floyd disaster relief operation in New Jersey. Henry had always encouraged the Red Cross to prepare its own meals for disaster victims.

"I'm honored to drive a vehicle named after such a great man," said Poole.

Based at the Midland Empire Chapter of the Red Cross in St. Joseph, Mo., Henry's Kitchen can be deployed rapidly to any location in the continental United States. Upon reaching the disaster relief operation, Henry's Kitchen can be set up and ready to prepare meals within two hours.

Poole, however, will be the first to admit that driving Henry is one thing, but to preparing and distributing meals to disaster victims is another. Nearly 50 Red Cross volunteers from all over the United States even two from the Virgin Islands toil in the hot sun, and an often hotter kitchen, to prepare meals for people affected by Tropical Storm Allison in Baton Rouge and the surrounding area.

When asked how he felt when he got the call, Poole said, "I was pleased to be able to help," and despite the 14-hour drive and 90-degree weather, Poole added, "I would do it again in a heartbeat. Henry and I will be friends for quite some time."

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