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December 8, 2007 3:57 PM

A shelter and hot meals in Westport

Posted by Tricia Duryee

WESTPORT -- Since the lights were on in Aberdeen, I decided to head south to Westport, where I knew some people were without power.

On the main road in Ocosta, right before getting to Westport, a sign said "hot meals," so I pulled over to take a look.

There was a major operation at the school, supported mostly by school employees, the National Guard and the Boy Scouts.

Inside about 200 people had been gathering for breakfast, lunch and dinner since Thursday. Outside, the National Guard was unloading an entire truck of food delivered by Top Foods, and off to the side there was a bus that served as a central kitchen.

Here's the pretty amazing part about this story -- the bus was brought to the school by Boy Scout Troop 835 of Pacific, led by Jim Brass. It was the one-year-old Boy Scout Troop's first project, and it stores 300 to 400 meals onboard so it can be deployed at a moment's notice.

It arrived Thursday, and when another local troop found out about it on the radio, they were at the school waiting for them.

Together, they have been cooking up stews, chili, scrambled eggs, and serving salads and fresh fruit for the residents of Westport who had been without electricity going on five or more days.

The old school bus looks a little bit more like something that would tour with the Grateful Dead than respond to emergencies, but is a tight-running ship.

boyscoutbusreal.jpg

One of the four Boy Scouts was keeping watch when I boarded. The first area had a sleeping area and a table with a small TV. The next area had a three burner, industrial-looking gas stove, microwave and mini-fridge and a full sized sink. There was also a bathroom. The whole thing was running on a monster-size generator (compliments of Lowe's).

In the far back, there was room for shelves, where food and cooking supplies were stacked in big rubber bins. There was also a full-sized freezer.

In front, there was a staging area where additional supplies could be dropped off. Large items were kept for cooking food, and smaller items were separated so that families could take food home.

The operation will wind down tomorrow. A lot of residents got their electricity back on this morning at 3:30, however, most of their food in their fridges and freezers have gone bad. So volunteers still expect to get a fair number of people.

"It's for anyone who needs it," said Westport Fire Captain Dave Bell. "You have people with really nice cars pulling up, but you also have people arriving on bikes and by transit."

Bell said the area was really hammered. Everyone has been talking about how loud the roar is when there's sustained winds of 80 miles per hour. The metering equipment in Hoquiam broke at 84 mph, but gusts supposedly rose to 120 mph.

The evidence is here. Trees have literally snapped in half, and have been pulled straight out of the ground, falling on their sides to expose their roots.

National Guard Staff Sgt. Joseph Bons of Everett said because the wind knocked down so many lines, there's been a lot of demand for food and water.

If the grocery store has electricity, it's picked over. If it gets re-stocked, it's gone again.

Bons came from Everett, delivering 100 cases of MREs, which have about 12 meals per case, and half of a pallet of water. The water here is deemed potable, except for in Central Park, where there's a boiling advisory.

The donations have also been pouring in from a number of stores, including Home Depot, Wal-Mart, Dominos and Grocery Outlet. While, I was there Top Food delivered a truck of 12 pallets of food, including peanut butter and jelly and bread.

Brass, the Boy Scout troop leader, said that these are the types of things that make people feel like they haven't been forgotten (even if they have been).

They even brought a small TV and VCR to play children's movies and a case of yarn and knitting needles for seniors.

"You want to give them your best so they don't feel forgotten" he said. "This is a poor community that is suffering from an economic downturn in the fishing and logging industries. It means a lot for someone to remember them."

As Brass and his four Boy Scouts prepare to cook their ninth meal, he says: "I think it was a success."

But he's not totally content. They need a bigger water supply on the bus -- it only lasted a day, and probably should have enough food on hand for 1,000 meals.

Even now, I can overhear him telling other volunteers that he just secured milk for additional meals. He said, "We have to get this community up and running."

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