The smell of lasagna floated out of the truck parked outside police headquarters as John Potter stepped down.

Usually, the Casper Salvation Army emergency disaster coordinator and his truck are stationed at large-scale catastrophes — wildfires, floods, earthquakes — around the world to feed those working and anybody who had been displaced. But for eclipse weekend, he gets to cook for the emergency personnel of his hometown.

He and a team of volunteers will serve three meals a day and provide snacks to Casper area police, deputies, firefighters, Game and Fish wardens and ambulance workers, who are all pulling long shifts while the eclipse crowds are in town.

“This is quite an honor to feed those in my own backyard,” the Casper native said. “We just make sure their bellies are full.”

He estimated that he and his crew of volunteers will serve between 200 and 300 workers at each meal — a total of about 3,000 meals over the weekend. Often, Potter said, that means they start working at 4 a.m. and don’t stop until 9 p.m.

And these meals are far more than tasteless field rations. On Saturday evening, the crew was cooking up a feast that included lasagna, rolls, tossed salad and fruit.

“Tonight’s going to be a blowout,” he said, standing among the van’s stainless steel equipment as a volunteer pulled a pan of lasagna out of an oven.

The crew has become a family as they traverse the country from one emergency to another and serve thousands of meals. He’s worked with some of the volunteers for years. The work wouldn’t be possible without them, Potter said.

In his 13 years with the Salvation Army, Potter estimated he’s served more than 1.5 million meals. His service comes from a deep respect for law enforcement and emergency workers, those people who put on their uniforms to work long hours keeping communities safe — often at risk to their own safety. It comes from the heart, he said.

“This is my uniform,” he said, gesturing to his red Salvation Army shirt and stained white baseball cap, adorned by signatures and thanks of the people he’s served.

“This is my part.”

Follow crime and courts reporter Elise Schmelzer on Twitter @eliseschmelzer

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Features Editor

Elise Schmelzer joined the Star-Tribune in 2016 after graduating from the University of Missouri and interning at newspapers around the country. As features editor, she oversees arts and culture coverage and reports stories on a broad variety of topics.

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