Citizen answers call of hunger
Story by Sgt. Joel F. Gibson
13th COSCOM Public Affairs Office
NEW ORLEANS — "It's an honor and privilege to feed the troops," said Eddie "Eddie Boy" Woerner, a debris removal contractor and sod grower from Elberta, Ala.
Until he received some much needed help from the 13th Corps Support Command and the United States Navy, Woerner and two friends almost single-handedly fed the New Orleans Police Department immediately after Hurricane Katrina.
David Richard, a friend of Woerner's and a New Orleans native, phoned Philip Taylor, Woerner's son-in-law Sept. 4, to tell him there was nobody providing food to the remaining police officers in the city. Taylor informed Woerner of the dilemma.
With a little initiative and a lot of help from civilian volunteers, Soldiers of the COSCOM and sailors from the Iwo Jima, Woerner solved the problem.
Richard had seen Woerner head up a grilling operation to feed his employees in the aftermath of Hurricane Ivan and said he felt he could be of use to the New Orleans Police Department.
"We had our coach loaded up with ice and tents, and we were getting ready to head down to Mississippi to bid on a debris-removal contract," said Woerner.
Woerner continued," We all felt that going to feed these officers was a lot more important than bidding on a contract to go pick up sticks.
"Normally when you head out to a hurricane site, there's no ice, so that's the first thing we packed," said Woerner.
Woerner said," We dragged the ice out, and replaced it with meats, bread, gas tanks and grills."
Woerner said he was only able to gather two helpers because of the late hour, and while trying to round up another volunteer, his son-in-law, Bo Cook, rolled an ATV and suffered a broken leg.
"I was in a state of sadness because I knew I couldn't help Bo, but I could come feed these 800 officers," said Woerner.
Woerner said he left Elberta at 2:15 a.m. Sept. 5 and arrived at the police command center at 12:30 p.m. the same day.
Upon arriving at the command center, Woerner said he met Steve Nichols, New Orleans Deputy Superintendent of Police, who informed him that 800 of his officers had left the city and the remaining officers were without food.
"We started unloading the grills and connecting the gas. I had a feeling come over me like I've never had. I knew we had brought all the goods, but for the three of us to feed all of them on a Sunday afternoon, it felt like an impossible task," Woerner said.
Woerner said the largest group he had ever fed prior to that day was a group of 150 friends and family.
"I knew if we could feed 150, with a little more effort we could feed 800," said Woerner.
Woerner continued," I've taken on some large projects, but I've never felt like that. I said, Lord, with your help, we'll do our best."
Woerner said they lit the grills and put the first batch of meat on, and two more volunteers showed up.
"Now there's five of us, and by midnight we fed all of the remaining New Orleans Police Department and 1200 of the troops," said Woerner.
Woerner continued," Steve Nichols came to me and said,' Eddie, you came to feed us and you fed 1200 of the troops. You know, there are 6,000 troops surrounding this area. The word is out now, and you'll have 6,000 more.'"
"I said to God, with a good night's sleep and your help, we can feed them all," said Woerner.
The COSCOM assigned Chief Warrant Officer Mark Sutton, a food service technician, to assist in the logistical aspect of food service operations.
Sutton said, "I'm here to help streamline distribution and get (Woerner) the support he needs to run this operation."
"Eddie and his volunteers have a lot of Christianity and spirit, and they spread it," said Sutton.
In addition to Sutton, the COSCOM coordinated delivery of food, water, ice, refrigerated vans and provided food service specialists and volunteers to help cook the food and feed the troops.
Sailors from the USS Iowa Jima also joined the operation.
Woerner showed his gratitude to the COSCOM by bringing barbecue equipment over to the COSCOM life-support area at the New Orleans International Airport Monday.
Donations of money and food for the private kitchen were flowing in, including a $50,000 donation from the singer Cher and a large shipment of sausage from the Elberta Little League.
"Every year, Joyce Pluscht cooks up 1,000 pounds of sausage and sells it to raise money for uniforms, when she found out about this, she sent that frozen sausage down here right away," said Woerner.
Woerner said, "It's people like (Pluscht), who are just worried about feeding these men, who keep our operation running."
Since that time, Woerner has been running his operation all-day every day feeding servicemembers, federal agents, emergency personnel, local police and contractors.
For more information about the nonprofit feeding operation, call (251) 943-3510 or 1-877-659-9011.