116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Leaning back in a high-top chair that propped open the door to Willie Ray’s Q Shack, Al Shadi wondered what he and the rest of his seven-person crew might encounter during their trip to Louisiana to lend a helping hand to Hurricane Ida victims.
“Are we sleeping with the alligators or are we just sleeping beside them? I just want to know,” Shadi quipped Monday morning with an orange Gatorade in hand.
Shadi was part of a group of Q Shack employees and volunteers who gathered as the sun rose Monday at the restaurant on Blairs Ferry Road NE to venture to southern Louisiana, where Hurricane Ida made landfall Aug. 29 and left hundreds of thousands of residents without power in its wake.
After Cedar Rapids residents benefited from out-of-town helpers in the aftermath of last summer’s derecho, Q Shack owner Willie Ray Fairley organized this latest trip to pay it forward to hurricane victims, linemen and others who may need a hot meal.
Cedar Rapids residents know Fairley for jumping to action to feed the community after the hurricane-force winds of the derecho knocked down thousands of trees and caused widespread power outages. He cooked the restaurant’s refrigerated food before it could spoil and drove around town to serve anyone who needed a meal.
He also went to Texas in February to serve hundreds of meals and lend a hand to those affected by winter storms that plunged much of the state into below-freezing temperatures and overwhelmed its energy infrastructure.
“Anywhere that we can make it, we’re going to do it,” Fairley said of his desire to help in disaster-stricken areas.
Storm victims need others who are willing to step up and help, Shadi said.
“I don’t care what state the people are in, you’re all our neighbors,” he said.
With bags of chips, water packs and coolers filled with meat stowed away in their trucks, Fairley said they are prepared to serve more than 1,500 meals. Once that food runs out, they will buy more to keep a total of about 5,000 hot meals coming.
Having learned from their time in Texas, Fairley and his helpers know it will take some time for word to spread about the Willie Ray’s crew and their free barbecued eats. But once they become the talk of the town, they know to be ready to serve long lines.
Fairley anticipates staying through Sept. 12 and returning to Cedar Rapids early next week. The group is “going in blindfolded,” but may visit the Slidell area about 32 miles northeast of New Orleans first and eventually go closer to Houma, which is about 55 miles southwest of the city.
“I’m ready to roll,” Fairley said with a smile.
Trevor Nicholson, a Wellman resident who works at Hawkeye Ready-Mix and has driven trucks for about three decades, also accompanied Fairley on the Texas trip and was there Monday to drive his white Ford F-150 to Louisiana.
He wanted to lend his practical expertise and assist with the logistics of this trip, but most importantly, Nicholson said, he was eager to volunteer to help those in need. Some people become so overcome with gratitude that they will cry and hug the helpers, he said.
“That’s what it’s all about,” Nicholson said. “It’s very soothing for the soul.”
Fairley announced the trip on the restaurant’s Facebook page and sought donations via his Venmo handle, @WillieRaysQShack. Plus, Fairley said Seth Green, president of Green Acres Storage, donated a Penske truck rental for the trip, and Modern Companies also is providing a truck with a trailer to pull the Willie Ray’s Q Shack truck.
Tom Wilson, a driver with the company, said he volunteered when the corporate office asked if any employee with a truck and trailer was available to help.
“We know how the derecho hit us in town, when everyone came and helped out,” Wilson said. “ … If one person helps, hopefully many more will. It’s a good thing that Willie does. We’ve been through it, and we know what it’s like to not have power for a few weeks.”
As the group gathered their trucks outside Willie Ray’s Q Shack, a 250-square-foot kitchen in the parking lot of Blue Lagoon Car Wash, to do one final run-through of their supplies before departure, a couple of motorists sent the helpers off with enthusiastic honking of their car horns.
“Everybody pays it forward and it makes it a better way,” Fairley said.
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