States of Devastation

States of Devastation

The 800-bed medical facility at LSU's Pete Maravich Assembly Center. Medical personnel work around the clock to ensure patients receive nutrition as well as medical attention

This bridge leading from Ocean Springs to Biloxi, MS, was destroyed by the high winds and wave action. All roads leading in and out of Biloxi were destroyed or under water.

The Houston Astrodome was a shelter for thousands of citizens who were unable to leave.

After transporting victims of Hurricane Katrina to the field hospital at LSU's PMAC, two helicopters take off from LSU's Bernie Moore Track Stadium into the Baton Rouge skyline.


That's Mark Kraner, director, contracted auxiliary services, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge. On Tuesday when the levees broke "our world changed drastically," he remembers. LSU converted its track stadium into a heli-pad for the two emergency special needs shelters they were operating.

His story is one of thousands that make Hurricane Katrina the worst natural disaster in our nation's history. Its aftermath damaged beyond repair thousands of homes, schools, hospitals and businesses in Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, leaving thousands of people in emergency shelters.

In the midst of this devastation in New Orleans, Biloxi, Mobile and elsewhere along the Gulf Coast, food and water became basic human needs. And just as they have so many times in the past, foodservice operators large and small found their skills, teams and facilities uniquely suited to provide help and support to members of the many affected communities.

Large institutions, in particular, found themselves facing both unique challenges and unique opportunities

The Largest Field Hospital in History
The Pete Maravich Assembly Center on the LSU campus was converted into a field hospital for thousands of evacuees from New Orleans and other affected areas. It has been deemed the largest acute-care field hospital in U.S. history. With 800-beds and at least 500 staff members, LSU was feeding, at cost, four meals a day to the hundreds housed in the PMAC and in other areas of the campus.

"Quite honestly, we didn't have the staff or the supplies on hand to feed the number of people who were here. It was overwhelming," says David Heidke, regional district manager at LSU. "We went through it meal by meal, day by day."

Chartwells, a division of Compass Group, sent six managers and chefs to help on campus. LSU used both their primary distributor, Conco, as well as a number of local suppliers. There were three groups of local volunteers (Bananno's Fine Catering, a local Baptist church group, and the nondenominational chapel on campus) who helped serve meals prepared in offsite kitchens.

"We took in 35,000 students, not to mention staff, doctors, volunteers, National Guard, and FEMA," says Heidke. "The successes of our relief efforts were in great part due to the volunteerism of students and locals, the willingness and support of Chartwells, my staff and the University, as well as those who reached out from other communities, like NACUFS."

Schools also mobilized to help Gulf Coast communities and colleges ravaged by the hurricane. In Biloxi, Gary Whittemore, foodservice director for Biloxi Public Schools, was officially appointed overseer of 'emergency personnel' including production and sanitation at the schools which in many cases had been converted to emergency shelters.

New Entitlements
To facilitate feeding of the children of evacuees the USDA Food and Nutrition Service issued a memorandum outlining a policy for school children in devastated areas. The memo addresses feeding children who may be temporarily housed in other states as a result of evacuations.

The USDA issued a waiver of normal school lunch accountability systems for schools in the disaster area. It permits flexibility in meal patterns, milk requirements, meal times and offer-versus-serve policies. In addition, the waiver allows school offices to serve meals free to homeless families and children outside of the individual application process.

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) is one of many systems welcoming displaced children into classrooms across the state.

Districts with a significant influx of students due to the hurricane, such as Dallas Independent School District, may increase entitlement under the federal free and reduced-price lunch program automatically to the extent students qualify as homeless.

"We enrolled about 300 displaced students in three of the Dallas schools," says Dora Rivas, division manager, Food & Child Nutrition Services, Dallas Independent School District. "It's difficult to hear of the thousands of people stranded until they are able to return home, make new living arrangements or find jobs."

Foodservice association job banks are becoming an indispensible tool for those rebuilding their lives after Katrina. For example, the American Society for Healthcare Food Service Administrators (ASHFSA) joined other organizations such as Women's Chef & Restaurateurs, Council of Independent Restaurants Association, and the James Beard Foundation, in establishing job banks to help members who have been displaced from their jobs to find employment. ASHFSA is encouraging members and non-members to contact the national office about temporary and permanent job openings.

"It is difficult for any of us to comprehend the extent of the devastation," said Regina Toomey Bueno, ASHFSA President. "But, hopefully, together we can join in providing some security, albeit small, to our members along the Gulf Coast."

At a glance:

Weathering the Storm

  • At the Louisiana Superdome, Centerplate, the concession management firm, was able to serve meals to thousands of displaced residents sheltered there prior to its evacuation.
  • At the Houston Astrodome, Aramark fed thousands of people moved from the Superdome. (Aramark manages the Astrodome's foodservice.)
  • Without water or power for three days the University of Southern Mississippi maintained foodservice and fed hundreds by tapping water supplies that remained in other buildings on campus.


A Shelter Feeding Queen

Strategic Planning is Crucial

Mary Kate Harrison


"Food becomes basic in times of disaster," says Mary Kate Harrison, MS, RD, SFNS, general manager at Hillsborough County School District, Tampa, FL."It is truly tragic watching people who suddenly don't have anything, and are sincerely thankful just to get a warm cup of coffee and a hot meal."

Last year, Harrison's work in managing hurricane shelters after Florida was hit with three hurricanes in a row earned her a reputation as "The Shelter Feeding Queen." We asked her to offer FM readers some tips in the event they find themselves playing this role.

BEFORE: "Strategic Preparation"

  • Have a well-defined pre-storm plan with designated shelter sites.
  • Make sure shelter managers have basic necessities always on hand, such as canned fruits and meats and paper goods as well as all necessary supplies (flashlights, cell phone, battery-powered radio, walkie talkies, extra batteries).
  • Have an efficient communications plan and a preselected reliable staff of volunteers who are familiar with the schools and facilities. Make sure volunteer teams have written guidelines about how to contact "Emergency Central" in the event of emergency.
  • Don't over-stock individual shelters in advance. It helps to centralize most supplies so that as a hurricane approaches, you can deliver to each shelter from one location.
  • Have backup sanitation supplies that don't require water, such as liquid sanitizer and anti-bacterial wet wipes (used to wipe off cans of food prior to opening).
  • Take an inventory before a shelter opens.
  • Fill drink barrels with cold water to be used first. Save bottled water until other supplies run out.

DURING: "This is the life boat, not the love boat."

  • Listen for official instructions from a battery-operated radio or television.
  • If evacuated to a safe area, bring snack food supplies such as peanut butter bars, dried cereal, and water.
  • Conserve supplies. Provide food people need to be comfortable.
  • Offer water and coffee if possible. This provides comfort at a time when they have little else.
  • Maintain a 3-meal-a-day schedule. Use meal tickets as a means of maintaining count.
  • Do not put food out for the general taking. Always pass out food to each person individually.
  • Maintain control of the foodservice. Many people will try to tell you what to do, but you're the one trained in food management, therefore you're in charge. Even the best-laid plans can go out the window. When they do, use common sense as your guide.

AFTER: "Food is a basic human need in times of disaster."

  • Take an inventory.
  • Turn in the proper paperwork.
  • Restock the central shelter if necessary.