Red Cross Disaster Kitchen Gets a Workout & a Wake-Up

Red Cross volunteers practice for a real disaster at in Seattle.

By Ray Lane |

Red Cross volunteers practice for a real disaster at in Seattle.

SEATTLE – Japan’s massive earthquake is another wake-up call of how important preparations can be for disasters here at home.

And at Seattle’s American Red Cross headquarters, training focused Sunday on a big rig can perform an awfully impressive function when the worst happens.

When a big disaster strikes, this rig is where some comfort is created – good food during bad times.

It’s a mobile kitchen where trainees learned Sunday to quickly put together several dozen meals of veggie burgers and chicken parmesan.

But during a true emergency, up to 15,000 meals could be prepared here.

“We’re running this kitchen here very minimal, but normally it takes a much larger size, and a much larger support network, to be able to provide the 12,000 to 15,000 meals out of this vehicle,” says the Red Cross’ Howard Ferrucci.

The kitchen is housed inside a giant trailer – one of five the Red Cross operates around the nation, dispatched from region to region as they’re needed.

The one in Seattle is nicknamed “Henry’s Kitchen.”

The key is to have volunteers and staff trained around the country – including in Western Washington – who can step in and know how to use it, if and when the time comes.

Says Red Cross volunteer Tom Albertson: “It’s really important, because if it comes back, you can take it on as second nature how to work in the Henry’s Kitchen facility. The other neat thing is – when you work in Henry’s Kitchen, you’re prepared to work in mobile feeding units as well, and that’s what we do more typically day in and day out.”

The mobile kitchen can feed not only victims of a disaster, but also all the rescue and relief crews that would be there to help.

“This becomes a very stressful area because the constant request for food … and they number of meals that we provide,” says Ferrucci. “These kitchens might sometimes run 24 hours a day.”

The training at the mobile kitchen – part of the “When the Time Comes” program at the Red Cross – was set awhile back, way before the Japanese earthquake.

But as it turns out – the timing was a potent reminder of just how much a facility like this may be needed here someday.