Food trucks spring into action to help Hurricane Irma victims

Sept. 15, 2017 | by Elliot Maras

Source: iStock.com

With recovery just starting in the wake of Hurricane Irma, food trucks are once again playing a key relief role, just as they did two weeks ago in Houston.

Millions of people throughout Florida and the surrounding states remain without power, and hence, have limited access to food.

"There's no cooking, no hot meals, and nothing open in the area," Anthony Garcia, who operates King of Racks BBQ Food Truck and Catering in Miami, one of many food trucks involved in the relief effort, told Food Truck Operator.

Officials said about 2.5 million people were still were without power in the state Thursday afternoon, according to CNN. 

"Everything I had in my refrigeration was pretty much gone," said Garcia.

While his refrigeration system wasn't working, his truck was running, despite some water damage. So Garcia didn't hesitate when he received a call to feed people at the BB&T Center, home to the Florida Panthers of the National Hockey League in Sunrise, Florida (near Miami), on Wednesday and Thursday.

JetBlue sponsors food trucks

Food Truck Invasion, a Pinecrest, Florida-based food truck event promoter, arranged for food trucks to feed people at the BB&T Center. JetBlue, the airline, sponsored the free meals at the BB&T Center on Wednesday and Thursday.

"As South Florida begins to recover from Hurricane Irma, we wanted to provide one small piece of comfort to our neighbors, customers and crew members in the area," Tamara Young, JetBlue's manager of corporate communications, told Food Truck Operator.

Garcia has lost about a week's worth of work, but he expects to be up and running by Monday. 

Business actually took a dive several days before the hurricane hit as people prepared for the storm, Garcia said. 

"A lot of people stopped doing things a week before to hunker down and get ready for it," he said.

Garcia doesn't expect things to be back to normal for weeks due to the power outages. He's just grateful that his house wasn't damaged, a fate that afflicted some of his employees.

Hibiscus Hut Food Truck in St Augustine has provided free food and water for two days already, with more planned.

Food trucks don't hesitate to help

Rachael Andreu and Mostafa Abdelhamid, who operate Hibiscus Hut Food Truck in St. Augustine, Florida, were incensed when they saw Facebook posts about people being gouged for water. They didn't hesitate to offer free food and water and advertise it on Facebook. 

"It was crazy here," Abdelhamid told Food Truck Operator. Come Monday, they will be offering free food again, having already served about 200 people in two days. Their trailer serves cheeseburgers, chili, wraps, quesadillas, burritos, smoothies coconuts and hibiscus juice. Donations have helped offset the hundreds of dollars they've spent providing free food and water.

It wasn't as if the boyfriend/girlfriend team didn't have their own problems to worry about. The hurricane tore the roof off of Andreu's home. Abdelhamid was fortunate that his home was spared.

"The best thing about it is that when people see our (Facebook) post, they start giving out free stuff, too," he said. "As soon as we did it, everyone started to help."

Nonprofit teams with food trucks

In the western central part of the state, a non-profit called the McDonald Associates Collective Collaboration, founded by Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Clinton McDonald, is reimbursing food trucks $10 per meal for feeding people. The were 12 trucks serving at four Tampa locations Thursday, including a shopping center, a supermarket parking lot, a church parking lot and an athletic field.

Food trucks have played a key role in Operation Feed Tampa Bay.

On Tuesday, MACCLID, as the foundation is known, contacted Generation Entertainment/Generation Food Truck, a Tampa-based food truck event and entertainment promoter to arrange to get food trucks to the public sites. 

"We've got trucks out running today and will have trucks running tomorrow," said Jeremy Gomez, a former food truck operator who runs the promotion company with his wife, Candy. "We've got a lot going on."

Edwin Fuentes, a veteran chef from Chicago, had just moved to Tampa to start his first food truck when the disaster struck. As a result, Fuentes, who will offer Mexican fare from his truck, Bombazos, will be donating food before he actually sells any.

"We're just trying to feed the people," said Fuentes, who plans to be part of the MACCLID event, known as Operation Feed Tampa Bay. "Due to the Irma situation, we had to push back our start date."

Fuentes had to repair his truck's generator because of the flooding. Fortunately, his commissary escaped flooding, as did his apartment.

Once he's up and running, Fuentes believes there will be a strong demand for food trucks, given the extent of the power outage and the scarcity of some food items in supermarkets and restaurants.

Some supermarkets are taking advantage of the situation and charging as much as $6.99 for a pound of chicken, he said.

"They (supermarkets) just marked everything up," he said. Drive-thru lines at QSRs, meanwhile, are a half an hour wait, minimum.

The northern part of the state fared a bit better than the central and southern areas, according to John Scaramuzzi, who runs Muzzi's Madhouse in Jacksonville, Florida. Nevertheless, he was without electricity for four days and used a generator to power his truck refrigerator.

Scaramuzzi, whose truck specializes in Chicago style Italian fare, was able to serve food on Thursday, focusing on areas that social media posts indicated were still without power.

"They were looking for a hot meal rather than eat out of the pantry," Scaramuzzi said.

Food trucks have clearly emerged as an important resource in disaster relief.


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



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

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