IOWA DERECHO 2020

Bridge Under the Bridge couple gifted food trailer by 'Good Morning America'

The storm has passed, but the need to feed their neighbors hasn't

Bridgette Williams-Robinson checks on cars lined up to receive bags Dec. 20 during a toy and blanket giveaway under the
Bridgette Williams-Robinson checks on cars lined up to receive bags Dec. 20 during a toy and blanket giveaway under the Eighth Avenue SW bridge in Cedar Rapids. Williams-Robinson began serving meals under the bridge after the Aug. 10 derecho left her without power and with a fridge full of food that urgently needed to be cooked. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Bridgette Williams-Robinson and her husband, Jovountae Robinson, didn’t intend to start a nonprofit.

Then the Aug. 10 derecho tore through Cedar Rapids and, with the power out, the couple pulled out a grill Williams-Robinson had for her business as a party planner and started cooking the food in their freezer for neighbors.

Then they didn’t stop.

Four months later, they can still be found most evenings under the Eighth Avenue SW bridge in Cedar Rapids, serving hundreds of free hot meals, no questions asked, to anyone who needs them.

“The need has not gone by the wayside,” Williams-Robinson said.

As the weather got colder, they started a GoFundMe to try to buy a food truck or a trailer so they could keep serving in the cold, but couldn’t find one they could afford. That didn’t stop them from going out almost every day, despite the winter weather.

“I don’t like the cold and I don’t want to stand out here, but I want to be loyal to the people who depend on us,” she said. “I’m praying someone will come along with a trailer or a food truck or something that’s reasonably priced or they want to donate to us.”

On Wednesday, those prayers were answered when ”Good Morning America” showed up with a brand-new food trailer, donated by eBay.

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“I’m at a loss for words, I’m still processing,” she told The Gazette shortly after the segment aired. “It was definitely a shock. ... That thing is freaking awesome.”

Instead of moving on from the post-storm meals, Williams-Robinson, 32, has expanded her efforts. She has applied for 501(c) 3 status and named the effort Bridge Under the Bridge. She’s partnered with HACAP to pass out free food boxes each Tuesday, typically serving about 150 people. Sometimes, they run out and have to turn people away.

“People should not be denied food. There’s a surplus of it in our nation,” she said. “Food security has been an issue people just don’t talk about.”

People who want to help can message them on Facebook at Bridge Under the Bridge or call (319) 804-9009.

As for the rest of 2020 — her kids, ages 15, 14, 12, 9-year-old twins, 3 and 2 — have been doing virtual school. Everyone in the family is over the situation.

“I mean, I don’t know whose idea this was, to have a pandemic, but they should have thought twice,” Williams-Robinson said. “It is awful, sincerely awful.”

The pandemic also has ground Williams-Robinson’s party planning business, Have a Blast Party’s, to a halt.

“I wish I could be doing it right now, but I guess with COVID, nobody’s throwing exclusive parties,” she said. “Let’s be over with this in 2021, and everybody have a big party.”

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Yet when she looks at the community’s response to Bridge Under the Bridge, she feels hopeful. She organized a holiday toy and blanket drive and put a call out on Facebook asking if people would sign up to adopt a family.

“It was amazing how people stepped up,” she said. “We helped 110 kids. I feel blessed. There’s no question, no words but blessed.”

Comments: (319) 398-8339; alison.gowans@thegazette.com

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