Written by Georgia Duncan and Robert Wallace
Deer Park, Long Island, New York, November 21, 2012
Who do you call when faced with the task of preparing Thanksgiving dinner for 6,000 guests? Mitch Henry, American Red Cross volunteer extraordinaire, would be a good choice. Henry is the site manager for the kitchen and distribution operation in Deer Park, Long Island that will be supplying Thanksgiving dinners this year to people affected by Superstorm Sandy in Long Island communities, including Long Beach, Lindenhurst, Seaford, and Island Park.
Henry is certainly not alone in this endeavor. The Southern Baptist Convention has set up huge mobile kitchen facilities on the site which are capable of preparing more than 10,000 meals a day. On Thanksgiving Day they will prepare 6,000 lunches consisting of turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, sweet potatoes, a green vegetable, rolls and corn bread, and apple pie. Twenty-six Red Cross emergency vehicles, each with three crew members, will fan out in the communities and distribute the holiday dinners at both fixed and mobile sites. A large cadre of additional volunteers will also work to make the operation run smoothly.
Henry began work as a volunteer with the Red Cross with the relief effort for Hurricane Katrina and has had a hand in almost every major relief effort since that time: this is his thirty-seventh deployment. “The Red Cross is American people helping American people,” replied Henry when asked why he continues to volunteer for such a demanding task. “After a large operation, I often feel I’ll never do it again, but after I’ve had some time to reflect, I’m ready to go again.”
Henry is from Whittier, California, where he has two daughters. He will be spending Thanksgiving Day away from his daughters; a tear crept down his cheek as he spoke about missing them. Henry can come across as a gruff fellow as he directs his cadre of staff and puffs on his cigar. But when he talks about his volunteers he offers high praise and a touch of emotion creeps into his voice.
When not on assignment with the Red Cross, Henry is occupied by an auto body shop. His experience in managing people started at an early age. His family had a business producing the industrial mineral perlite, an additive often included in plant bedding material to retain moisture. Henry grew up working in the business, which employed around 400. He attributes his management skills to training from his father.
In addition to volunteering for major disaster relief operations, he is a Disaster Action Team (DAT) member at his local chapter. DAT teams respond and provide assistance for local emergencies such as house fires, flooding, or other events in which people are displaced. He is also a Red Cross instructor and routinely teaches the driving course for emergency vehicles and other higher level courses for Red Cross disaster volunteers.