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Albany-based Carpenter's Kitchen cooks on site for disaster victims

Albany volunteers convert a semitrailer into a mobile disaster kitchen

Inside the 53-foot trailer is everything needed for an efficient disaster kitchen, including ice maker, oven, vegetable and meat prep areas, cooler and cookers. (Staff Photo: Jim West)

Inside the 53-foot trailer is everything needed for an efficient disaster kitchen, including ice maker, oven, vegetable and meat prep areas, cooler and cookers. (Staff Photo: Jim West)

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Roy Downs (foreground) and volunteers of the Carpenter’s Kitchen of Georgia wanted to provide the most efficient way of cooking for disaster victims. (Staff Photo: Jim West)

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Ports were installed to provide for seamless delivery of food from the cooking area to the outside. (Staff Photo: Jim West)

ALBANY — When Roy Downs of Albany isn’t helping people in need, he’s most likely thinking how he can help them more efficiently. That’s the way it was driving home from Waveland, Miss., in 2005, Downs said, after he and a team of Christian volunteers had helped feed countless hungry victims of Hurricane Katrina.

“On our first trip to Waveland we were following the bulldozers in with food and water,” Downs said. “Needless to say, people were glad to see us.”

Altogether, the team made seven trips to Waveland, Downs said, setting up tents and a makeshift kitchen under “very crude” conditions. On Thanksgiving day, they somehow managed to serve 7,500 people, Downs said.

But it wasn’t good enough. Downs, 70, figured things should go faster and smoother at the inevitable next disaster. After a long period of preparation, he incorporated his faith-based group, The Carpenter’s Kitchen of Georgia, Inc., into a 501(c) 3 not-for-profit organization to better allow volunteers to help those in need in times of catastrophic events.

“We feed their bodies and also feed their souls,” Downs said. “This is a chance to pay things back. Some people call it ‘paying it forward.’”

He began also the slow business of transforming a 53-foot semitrailer into a movable and self-sustaining disaster kitchen, complete with stainless steel sinks, food cooler, ice maker, vegetable and meat preparation stations, deep cookers and more.

When dispatched to its first disaster, the kitchen will be accompanied by a second, smaller truck bearing electrical generators, an industrial size propane tank and other items needed to sustain the unit, Downs said. On the outside of the trailer are ports which enable seamless transfer of food to the serving area, which is shaded by a canvas awning.

On Thursday the trailer was displayed in the parking lot of Central Baptist Church, 1613 Third Ave. for members of the church and the public to see and tour. A volunteer was on hand to accept donations.

The kitchen was built entirely by himself and volunteers, Downs said, as money became available, with a watchful eye on bargain sites like govdeals.com or restaurants that were going out of business. Only one more item is needed to make the unit viable, Downs said: an industrial stainless steel rotisserie, with a “normal” price of $30,000 but offered at a factory discount for just $20,000.

“We’ve got just $18,000 left to raise for that,” Downs said. “but this is done on God’s time line, not ours.”

It’s hoped the kitchen will be up and ready to roll and cook by late summer or early winter, Downs said.

Downs is retired from 21 years as facility manager of the Dougherty County Board of Commissioners, he said, where he developed the mechanical, welding and construction talents needed to design the kitchen and to supervise volunteers who helped with its construction.

One of those volunteers for Carpenters Kitchen is Gary Starr, who, like Waters, is a member of Central Baptist Church in Albany. Starr said he was prompted to serve after receiving so much help from volunteers when his home was flooded in 1994.

“There was water six inches from the ceiling,” Starr said, ” and most of the help we got was from the church and from volunteers. The Bible says you have to be able to receive help to be in a position to repay that blessing.”

For additional information or to make a donation call ((229) 894-6367 or visit www.carpenterskitchen.org.