CEDAR RAPIDS — When the winds rose and the power went out, it didn’t take long for many local restaurants to respond by finding ways to help after the derecho swept through Iowa.
Even as many of them were dealing with damaged buildings and homes themselves, dozens of restaurants and food trucks began serving free meals to their neighbors. More have been giving away food than could fit in this article.
Sonali Revankar owns Persis Cedar Rapids, an Indian food restaurant that opened at 4862 First Ave. NE on July 30. Having to throw out all her inventory wasn’t exactly how she hoped her first month in business to go, Revankar said, but she was happy she could help the community. She served free food on Aug. 12.
“We realized still there are people out of power, so we thought it was better to start with a free food service, because we could cook and a lot of people could not,” she said. “This is the time we could show how much we care. When we opened, we had a really good response from customers.”
This was a way to repay that support from the community, she said.
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Other restaurant owners echoed that sentiment. Marquee Pizza, 920 E. Second Ave., in Coralville, gave away around more than 60 pizzas Aug. 12.
“We saw all the damage and wished we could help,” owner Sam Hall said. “It felt like the most efficient way for us to just help out in whatever fashion we can. Everyone has been supporting us in the community with the COVID mess, and we’re thankful to still be around. This was our way of saying thanks for everything, and we feel your pain.”
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More recently, nonprofits like World Food Kitchen have been paying local restaurants and food trucks to serve daily meals. Teams of volunteers have ferried pizzas and sandwiches to hard-hit neighborhoods around town. Food trucks have shown up outside stricken apartment buildings twice a day.
Other restaurants have received donations from individuals to fund their giveaways. Caribbean Kitchen started serving meals, and then donations to buy groceries for the meals began pouring in. They’ve been parking in different areas of town each day. Willie Ray’s Q Shack, 288 Blairs Ferry Rd. NE, has been flooded with donations to give away hundreds of meals.
Leah and Chris Price own Price Mechanical and wanted to donate money for food to serve a free meal at El Bajio, 555 Gateway Place SW. Owner Javier Garcia agreed, and on Aug. 14 they opened the doors to give away tacos and rice. Price said when she tried to pay Garcia for the food costs at the end of the night, he refused her money.
“Eventually I’ll find a way to repay him (other than my ‘serving’ help) but I want to make sure he is recognized for being a such a great community member and small-business owner,” she said.
Some places started serving free meals even before their power was back. Breakfast House manager Amanda Daoud said they prepared hundreds of sandwiches at the restaurant, 820 Sixth St. SW, on Aug. 12 and again on Aug. 15, and she and her family grilled and gave away more food outside their house.
For food trucks like One More Bite, getting service going was often easier than for brick-and-mortar restaurants because they didn’t have to wait for power to be restored.
“We have kind of an advantage with a mobile kitchen, where we can serve a lot of people in a short amount of time in between chopping trees and cleaning stuff up,” owner Ja’Don Cavil said.
On Saturday he set up next to Johnson STEAM Academy in the Wellington Heights neighborhood and started handing out free tacos to anyone who wanted one. He had been parked on different streets throughout the week, doing what he could to help.
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“I thought it was necessary to really help out the community, especially in that area that a lot of times gets put on the back burner with stuff getting reestablished,” he said. “I thought it would be a way to help out in the place I grew up.”
Paris Flournoy stopped by for tacos and said a tree fell on his house during the storm, leaving a hole in the roof that he has covered with a tarp.
“There are good people out here, helping our community. This is what we need,” he said. “It’s hard for everybody, not just one person.”
A group of neighbors including Andrea Rowland and Carmen Ohrt took a break from clearing trees in their yards to grab tacos.
“I was going to cook for everyone, and then I saw this truck,” Ohrt said.
Rowland had roof and shed damage, but she repeated a mantra that seemed to be echoing around the city: “It could be worse.”
“We have amazing neighbors. We’ve all banded together and been feeding each other,” she said. “Our house is habitable. We have food and water and shelter, which are the main things we need. We’re grateful.”
Steve Houston and Maston Rstom took a lunch break from clearing trees for Marion-based Rathje Construction. They said they were working 12- to 15-hour days. They see things like these meals being given away and feel thankful, they said, a feeling they see reflected back by the people they’re helping.
“It’s just gratefulness all around,” Houston said. “I didn’t expect this at all. But it’s Iowa.”
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