Food trucks assisting Hurricane Harvey victims

Sept. 1, 2017 | by Elliot Maras

Photo courtesy of iStock.

Food truck operator Emily Garcia feels incredibly lucky that her three food trucks and warehouse escaped the effects of Hurricane Harvey, and she and her five employees have spent the last few days serving food to people who were less fortunate.

"We were very lucky," Garcia told Food Truck Operator. "We've been able to work, but we're not making any money." 

In just the last day alone, Garcia's mobile restaurants  — Churrasco — gave 200 free meals to people at a police station, servings which normally would have cost $10 each.

Although the hurricane's full devastation hasn't been determined, at last count 44 people had lost their lives and thousands of homes and businesses had been destroyed. 

Garcia is just one of many food truck operators who didn't hesitate to provide free food to displaced residents.

LaCole Jackson, the truck manager for Houston-based Miss Patty Wagons, has also spent most of the week donating food and clothing to flood victims in Houston. She and Garcia both hope to be back to work after Labor Day weekend.

James Canter, who operates the Guerilla Gourmet food truck and catering operation in Victoria, Texas, has galvanized thousands of volunteers in a relief effort that began a week prior to the hurricane's arrival on Sunday.

"Me and my wife got word that the storm was heading our way, so we started squirreling away resources," Canter told Food Truck Operator.

When the hurricane struck, Guerilla Gourmet's kitchen was one of the only buildings with operating electricity and water in the seven-county area, Canter said. Displaced residents were immediately drawn to the light.

He cooked a big pot of smoked kimchee chicken stew, began serving it and hasn't yet stopped. He has already served about 11,000 people.

"We were literally a beacon," he said. "No one else had lights on in the entire city."

Fortunately, the building also housed a local newspaper, The Advocate, which helped spread the word about Canter's relief operation.

"The next morning, people had heard we were accepting donations, so people started bringing by stuff," he said.

Without electricity, people realized it made sense to bring their perishable food to a place that could make use of it.

"What they couldn't cook themselves, they brought the goods to us," he said.

Chef Cooperative, a San Antonio non-profit, has also been helping Canter churn out meals. The organization sent 20 chefs who have been taking turns cooking, but according to some who were on hand, Canter didn’t take any time to rest, supervising between 300 and 400 volunteers throughout the week.

Canter exhausted his food supplies in one day, which he tags at about $10,000, but he has been continuously replenished by hundreds of donors who learned about the relief operation via word of mouth and social media.

His wife, Maureen, launched a GoFundMe fundraising campaign to support the effort. In four days, the campaign more than doubled its $10,000 goal from 326 donors, for a total of $20,240 at the time of this report. The campaign got 1,800 Facebook shares.

"We're doing our best to feed everybody," Canter said. "We were hit pretty hard, but we're just starting to get back to normal."

Steve Paprocki, president of Chef Cooperative, regards Canter as a hero and didn't hesitate to lend a hand when the call for help came in.

"It's mind blowing what we accomplished in four days," said Paprocki, who is also the CEO of San Antonio based Texas Black Gold Garlic, a producer of fermented garlic. Paprocki is mystified that Canter's catering facility, which can seat about 24 people, has been able to process donations by the thousands.

Expecting to return to San Antonio once he delivered his supplies, Paprocki instead chose to stay and help cook for 22 hours despite not having a change of clothes or a comfortable place to sleep.

The commitment of helping the cause drove Paprocki and others to deliver food and supplies throughout the region, oftentimes having to detour along back roads on account of flooding.

"It's the most mind blowing experience I've ever been in in my life," he said.

The desire to support the relief effort was widespread throughout the nation, based on random calls to food truck operators.

The Chow Train, a San Antonio-based food truck that has assisted in other disaster relief initiatives, is on the ground in Rockport, Texas and Aransas Pass, Texas, for example, and Sackett Street BBQ, an Asheville, North Carolina-based food truck, donated the proceeds from the sale of all its burgers and tacos Wednesday to a fund set up by the mayor of Houston to help hurricane victims, according to WLOS-TV. The truck also set up a donation jar at the serving window for those who wanted to contribute to the cause.

Organizations leading support efforts include the Louisiana Restaurant Association, The Commander's Family of Restaurants and the Greater New Orleans Foundation, all of which have joined forces to launch the Hurricane Harvey Hospitality Employee Relief fund, a community foundation that manages many different charitable funds.

As bad as the experience has been for many, those who rose to the occasion undoubtedly share Paprocki's feeling that the experience of helping others has given them a renewed sense of hope.


Topics: Customer Service / Experience, Food & Beverage, Independent Operators, Social Responsibility



Elliot Maras
Elliot Maras is the editor of KioskMarketplace.com and FoodTruckOperator.com.

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