Masons provide hot meals, break for area first responders

Some 200 meals served at downtown lodge

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CEDAR RAPIDS — Numerous law enforcement vehicles have been lining up at the Cedar Rapids Masonic lodge downtown this week for a good reason — home-cooked meals.

As of Thursday, three area Masonic lodges had served 150 to 200 first responders who worked during the flood — and now in the recovery efforts — at each meal since Monday, said John English, a mason with the Crescent Lodge. He and his wife, Jessica, were trying to come up with some way to give back to the community during the flood.

“Everybody has different gifts, and I guess ours is feeding people,” English said. “We wanted to provide meals for the law enforcement and other first responders who are working mandatory 12-hour shifts. And this gives them a place to get a good meal and just have a quiet place to go and relax.”

English said it only made sense for the Masonic lodge members to provide the meals because they were “high and dry” outside the flood zone with a big kitchen, at 616 A Ave. NE, and right by Interstate 380 for easy access. They started serving 24 hours a day on Monday and will serve through Friday.

Iowa State Patrol Trooper Robert Conrad, public information officer, said on Thursday that the “meals have been a real godsend.”

“We’ve had 60 troopers from across the state here,” Conrad noted. “Usually cops are going through a drive-through — not the healthiest — so this is a healthy, home-cooked meal.”

Cedar Rapids bike patrol officers, Dean Chiafos and Steven Yardley, taking a lunch break on Thursday, said they had been at the lodge every day.

“I give it 4 and a half stars,” Chiafos said, laughing.

“It’s been amazing,” Yardley said. “Hot food and a clean bathroom.”

The two have been patrolling the evacuated neighbors, keeping people out for safety concerns.

Yardley said bike patrol is great for the evacuation areas because it’s much easier to get around the barriers on bikes.

Just after they went in to eat, seven Iowa Task Force members showed up. Capt. Glen Heims said they had been at the Masonic lodge every day since Monday.

“They have done a wonderful job feeding us,” said Heims, who also is a Cedar Rapids firefighter. “They’ve been feeding us 24/7.”

Back in the kitchen, Wayne Wunschel and Carl Hallberg, Masonic members, were helping put together ham and cheese sandwiches that the Marion Hy-Vee donated on Thursday for lunch.

Wunschel, from Marion and a Mason for 42 years, said he doesn’t cook, but he “can put out food.” He’s been working the overnight meal shift and was getting tired.

“We make police coffee — nice and strong,” Wunschel, stroking his white beard and winking, told one of the officers who was getting ready to eat one of his sandwiches.

English said he, Jessica and about four others were cooking the meals such as chili and pizza pasta, and various Masonic temple members provided some of the food. But they also were offered donations from other businesses and community members when they heard about the meal service.

Some of the businesses that have donated include Hy-Vee stores in Cedar Rapids and Marion, Safe-A-Lot and Sam’s Club in Cedar Rapids and That One Cupcake Place in New Bo.

English said there are many more who have contributed and he’s made a spreadsheet and plans to publicly thank them.

For all of The Gazette's Flood 2016 coverage, please visit our flood coverage center.

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