The volunteers will head to a Burbank classroom at the American Red Cross’ district office for eight hours today to finish the two-day training. Safety is the most important thing to keep in mind when preparing mass meals, said Tom Busk, the American Red Cross instructor. “Kitchens are rather dangerous places with knives and the heat,” said Busk, a senior response associate with the agency’s Pacific Service Area. Usually the classroom portion of the preparedness lesson is held the first day, but the organization switched the schedule to be able to distribute the food to Operation Gratitude volunteers, who were assembling care packages Saturday for troops overseas at the Army National Guard Armory in Van Nuys. Saturday’s menu included beef brisket, mashed potatoes, green beans and carrot cake, which only needed to be thawed and sliced. SANTA CLARITA – Making 550 meals in two hours was no problem for a dozen American Red Cross volunteers who scampered around a church kitchen for two hours Saturday morning. Volunteers from the Greater Los Angeles Chapter were learning how to make mass meals so they could repeat the drill after emergencies such as wildfires and earthquakes. “As a volunteer, to be able to help people in need is a great reward,” said Don Dodson, a 50-year-old computer technician from Van Nuys. “This is preparation for that.” Dodson mastered the art of making mashed potatoes in a 60-quart pot, mixing them with a 4-foot-long wooden paddle. Two lead cooks directed the rest of the volunteers, who cleaned out food containers, boiled the green beans, and took trays out of the convection ovens. Volunteer Sue Hammarlund, 60, of Porter Ranch was in charge of the beef brisket. She said she took this class in January, but learned something new on Saturday. “The kitchen makes all the difference,” she said with a laugh as she stood in the spacious, well-equipped kitchen at Grace Baptist Church in Santa Clarita. By 10:30 a.m., the meals were being loaded onto two emergency response vehicles for their trip to Van Nuys. At the Armory, 500 to 600 volunteers worked in a seamless assembly line to finish 5,000 care packages before the lunch break. “It’s a factory,” said Operation Gratitude volunteer Bill Van Trump, 62, supervising the assembly line’s first section. “It’s fun.” His worker bees were filling those boxes with Girl Scout cookies, a “History of Nascar” DVD, headphones, pistachios, and cigars donated by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Even actor Ben Affleck was filling boxes along with the volunteers from local churches, companies and schools. For some soldiers, the boxes from Operation Gratitude are the only care packages they will get during their deployment in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere. “It made a big difference,” said U.S. Army Maj. Julian Bond, 37, who commanded a unit in Iraq last year. “It shows that people care.” Two seventh-graders from El Sereno Middle School in East Los Angeles were ready to volunteer again after finishing their three-hour Saturday shift. “I felt good because I was helping out the troops,” 12-year-old Monica Salas said. Jessica Zavala, 12, agreed. “They are heroes,” she said. “They are fighting for us.”160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!