An unprecedented storm requires an unprecedented relief effort, and Houstonians have responded to the challenges brought by the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey with gusto.
Powered by social media and the same spirit of generosity that’s compelled so many Houstonians to donate money and supplies to relief efforts, Houston’s culinary community is doing its part to feed both evacuees as well as the volunteers and first responders who are assisting them. Organized primarily through Facebook, they’re supplying meals to shelters, hospitals, and police and fire stations across the Houston area.
Many donations have been organized through a Facebook group called Houston Service Industry for Harvey Relief, which was started by chef Richard Knight and his wife Carrie Jean Knight. Over the course of the past few days, the group has provided thousands of meals.
While the chefs and volunteers prepare meals, Houston Food Finder publisher Phaedra Cook has been one of the people serving as a coordinator to get food to places where it’s needed. (Update: People who either want to contribute or would like to receive prepared meals can access the website ihavefoodineedfood.com.)
“Most of the needs that we have received for Richard’s group have been communicated to us by private citizens,” Cook tells CultureMap. “There are a lot of different first responder agencies that need to be fed . . . Many people who work in hospitals have been stuck there for days. Hot meals have been very welcome.”
Working from Reef, which escaped water damage in the kitchen although the dining room was not spared, Jennifer and Bryan Caswell marshaled resources to prepare 10,000 meals on Wednesday alone. Jennifer Caswell tells CultureMap that she’s worked with sommelier Cat Nguyen, publicist Dutch Small, and music promoter Mark Austin to gather chefs, products, and drivers.
“We can keep going as long as we have product,” Caswell says. “Reef won’t be opening soon, and I don’t want people sitting around. As long as I have people and product, we’ll keep going.”
She encourages anyone who either wants to help or needs assistance to email her with the details of either the work they’d like to do or how many mouths they need to feed at email@example.com.
Up in the Spring-Woodlands area, blogger Nick Rama has used his Nick’s Local Eats Facebook group to coordinate deliveries to shelters and first responders. Working with restaurants like The Cajun Stop and Caroline’s Kitchen in Tomball to deliver thousands of meals.
“I figured I had something to do to help and created a team of about 40 awesome people,” Rama says. At one point, the group even distributed breakfast tacos to people cleaning out their flooded homes.
Individual restaurants are participating, too. Brennan’s of Houston, Hugo's, Antone’s Famous Po’Boys, and Peli Peli Kitchen have all posted to social media about the work they’re doing to assist with the recovery efforts. Chef Ronnie Killen contributed $50,000 to feeding people and has set up a GoFundMe to raise $200,000 more.
Pinkerton’s Barbecue, which stayed open on Sunday to feed customers during the worst of the storm, has been supplying a steady stream of barbecue, chili, and other dishes to different first responders, including Houston police officers and firefighters, Harris County constables, and National Guardsmen.
Grant Pinkerton, who lives upstairs from his restaurant, tells CultureMap that he’s put a sign on the front door with his phone number. When officers show up and need food, they call, and he comes downstairs to provide them with provisions to take back to stations across the city.
Chefs from outside Houston have been contributing, too. Celebrity chef Jose Andres has arrived in Houston and is preparing meals through his World Central Kitchen nonprofit organization. Operation BBQ Relief, described by the Houston Chronicle as a “non-profit organization comprised of competition barbecue enthusiasts who respond to natural disasters by hauling in their smokers and churning out hot barbecue meals,” has set up in a parking lot downtown to provide additional meals.
These are just a few of the many examples of chefs and restaurant industry workers who have stepped up to help their community. With the support of their fellow Houstonians, they'll be able to continue for as long as there is a need.