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Veteran establishes region's emergency field kitchen


June 27, 2013
<b>The Western Massachusetts Disaster Field Kitchen can be seen every Sunday night this summer at the Stanley Park Concert Series. Members of the Medical Reserve Corps are selling hamburgers, hot dogs, french fries, desserts and beverages.</b><br>Reminder Publications photo by Lori Szepelak

The Western Massachusetts Disaster Field Kitchen can be seen every Sunday night this summer at the Stanley Park Concert Series. Members of the Medical Reserve Corps are selling hamburgers, hot dogs, french fries, desserts and beverages.
Reminder Publications photo by Lori Szepelak

By Lori Szepelak

lori@thereminder.com

WESTFIELD — Ed Mello, founder and president of the Greater Westfield & Western Hampden County Medical Reserve Corps, saw the need for an emergency field kitchen in western Massachusetts and persevered until his dream was realized.

"Our region has been through a lot, including floods, tornadoes, hurricanes and massive snowstorms," Mello said during an interview with Reminder Publications.

Mello, a retired lieutenant colonel from the Massachusetts Air National Guard at Barnes, was cleaning the field kitchen, which is necessary after each event. The kitchen is currently selling hamburgers, hot dogs, French fries, desserts and beverages every Sunday night at the Stanley Park Concert Series.

Mello and his wife Ann traveled to Washington, D.C. earlier this month to receive the national Medical Reserve Corps "Innovator Award" for the work the Medical Reserve Corps volunteers did when Hampden County was struck by the tornado in June 2011.

"We got through the battle," he said, noting that after several natural disasters including the tornado, he knew a field kitchen would be beneficial to the region. Mello designed the kitchen from his experience both in the U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force.

The Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) was founded after President Bush's 2002 State of the Union Address, in which he asked all Americans to volunteer in support of their country. MRC is a partner program of Citizen Corps, a national network of volunteers dedicated to ensuring hometown security. Citizen Corps, along with the Corporation for National and Community Service, and the Peace Corps are all part of the President's USA Freedom Corps, which promotes volunteerism and service throughout the nation.

The local MRC offers a corps of volunteers who are trained to provide high quality pre-hospital care and reliable communications during crises, as well as health promotion education that will enhance the public health preparedness and ability to respond to natural or man-made emergencies, according to Mello.

"By the end of 2012 we were ready to pilot the kitchen that had been created by many volunteers," he said.

That event, Harvest Days last October in the downtown, was "received very well" according to Mello.

The mobile feeding unit can serve up to 300 people within a three-hour notice after being activated, he said.

"People are amazed when they see it," he said.

The field kitchen features several sinks, hot or cold prep tables, freezer, refrigerator, coffee station, 12-bay sectional for salads, sandwiches and toppings, a full-size confection oven, 48" griddle, six-burner gas stove and standard oven, two basket fryers, a waste tank and a water supply.

"We can serve the standard items as well as breakfasts and more elaborate meals if needed," he said.

Elaborate meals can range from macaroni and cheese, American chop suey and Chili Fries to spaghetti with meatballs and sausage.

There are several upcoming events where area residents can see the field kitchen in action, including Stanley Park's 5th Annual Wheel Walk on July 20, the Auto Show at Berkshire Bank on July 28, the Westfield American Legion Band Concert Series at Stanley Park on July 10, 17, 24 and 31, and Stanley Park's Sunday Night Concert Series.

"Businesses, organizations and individuals can also request the field kitchen," Mello said, noting he needs a two-month notice and a list of what is needed so he can put together a cost and get the necessary permits.

"These opportunities provide good training and skills for our volunteers," he said. "Above the basic costs, we just ask for a donation toward the field kitchen."

Community partners with the local MRC that assist during emergencies include the First Congregational Church of Westfield, the Second Congregational Church of Westfield, Church of the Atonement, Central Baptist Church, Salvation Army of Westfield, Westfield Food Pantry, and the City of Westfield's Emergency Planning Committee.

Community partners and volunteers are always welcome to join the ranks of the local corps. For more information, visit www.gwmrcert.org, contact Mello at 568-0262 or 330-3757, or visit one of the upcoming events where the field kitchen and volunteers will be on hand.

"Our organization is 100 percent volunteer," Mello said. "Whatever your experience or training, a variety of skills are always needed."

Mello added that the corps is currently working with Westfield Vocational High School to encourage culinary students to get involved.

"We need to get younger individuals involved in the corps to sustain the organization," he said.

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