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Houston restaurant community cooks up support for shelters and first responders

August 31, 2017 at 6:25 PM EDT
The outpouring of help in Houston has been enormous, including from a group of restaurateurs and chefs who got together to supply food for hurricane victims and first responders. Miles O’Brien learns more from Tomeka Weatherspoon of Houston Public Media.
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MILES O’BRIEN: The outpouring of people helping those in need has been enormous in Houston over the past few days.

One example is a group of restauranteurs and chefs who got together to supply food to both victims and first-responders.

Houston Public Media’s Tomeka Weatherspoon paid a visit. She joins me now from the Convention Center.

Tomeka, what are the restaurants doing?

TOMEKA WEATHERSPOON, Houston Public Media: They’re gathering together to help each other and to help the community.

So, we visited Reef Restaurants today, and they’re making so much food. Yesterday, they told me they made 10,000 meals to give away to hospitals, evacuees, and first-responders.

I talked with co-owner of the restaurant Jennifer Caswell. And she said the restaurant community is just really tight-knit and they just wanted to do something to help.

JENNIFER CASWELL, Co-owner, REEF Restaurant: As we sat there and watched what was going on and we knew that we wouldn’t be able to come back in here and serve our customers, we knew that we had product that had to be gone through.

we also knew that we had customers and vendors that wanted to help. And we wanted to turn the kitchen into a hub to be able to do that. And we know that our chef community and our restaurant community is such a strong and well-knit community that we could get everybody on the same page and working together towards that goal.

MILES O’BRIEN: So, Tomeka, how do the restaurants figure out how and where to send the food?

TOMEKA WEATHERSPOON: Well, initially, it seemed like they just put the word out that they were available to help in any way that anyone needed.

And, you know, I was talking to some chef this morning, and they were saying now they’re just getting requests. They’re getting text messages. Can you please help us with this? And they are more than happy to help.

And they’re getting a lot of volunteers too.

So, I talked with a volunteer who is helping in another way. His name was Gavin Torabi. And he was going around to precincts, and he went to a station in Southwest Houston to see what they needed.

GAVIN TORABI, Volunteer: They were down to basically tortilla chips and water. And I said, instead of helping aimlessly wander, let’s direct our focus. And it started out. We asked, how many mouths do they have?

They said, we can’t tell you. So, we guesstimated, bought 50. And 50 turned into 100, and 100 turned into 200. And, like I said, we’re up into the 2,000s now.

TOMEKA WEATHERSPOON: And, Miles, like I said, people are volunteering in a lot of different ways.

One really crucial way is physically driving the food to these locations, to these hospitals, to these shelters. I talked with and rode with a volunteer driver. His name was Mark Austin. And he pointed out he is delivering food from some of the best places to eat in Houston.

MARK AUSTIN, Volunteer Driver: In the last 24 hours, I have delivered food from Reef, Riel Restaurant, Hugo’s, Brennan’s.

So it’s not — we’re not just delivering ham sandwiches to people. We’re delivering hot, fresh, best product food, you know, from James Beard Award-winning chefs.

MILES O’BRIEN: Tomeka, I imagine there are a lot of other people and a lot of other places that could use this kind of service. I think of assisted-living facilities, even private homes. Are there plans to expand?

TOMEKA WEATHERSPOON: Well, right now, they’re really trying to get organized, because demand is so high. And they’re really just getting off the ground.

So many restaurants had flooding issues and travel issues. And they have just so many demands they need to meet. I was talking to one chef, and he was saying you know, they ran out of protein really quickly. But because of all the volunteers, they were able to get it within the hour.

Another restaurant owner said you know, what we really need is refrigerated trucks. But the need changes minute by minute as the situation here keeps changing.

MILES O’BRIEN: It’s great to see that kind of response.

Tomeka Weatherspoon with Houston Public Media, thank you.

TOMEKA WEATHERSPOON: Thank you.

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