Just because tornado footage isn't on perpetual loop on the alphabet-soup cable news channels doesn't mean the recovery effort is over. Not by a long shot.
The folks cleaning up and taking data in the disaster zone will need support for the foreseeable future. Giving money to the American Red Cross is the simplest, most efficient way to help, but local food service professionals also need a boost as they continue to provide secondary support to recovery workers.
Take for example the Oklahoma Wing of the Civil Air Patrol. This group seeks to photograph every damaged home site affected by the recent tornadoes, on a shoestring budget.
“We have $5,000 or 30 days,” said volunteer officer James Beauchamp. “Whichever runs out first.”
So, when local chefs and food truck operators found out the Civil Air Patrol had set up a command post in the Norman National Guard Armory, they came to the aid of the volunteer team responsible for collecting invaluable data that will only be available a short time.
They collect data starting with aerial photo tracks taken for FEMA and the Oklahoma Division of Emergency Management. The photos, which determine the damage's depth and width, are next added to Google Earth images from Moore and Oklahoma City to recreate where homes and streets were before all hell broke loose and create a grid to guide air patrol pilots. Their ground mission is to use GPS trackers to locate housing sites within 30 feet of their location and walk street by street and house by house to photograph each site to collect data that will not only paint a picture of this weather event but be used to inform future research.
“Having food donated to us extends our mission,” said Kacy Harsha, who is principal of Sequoyah Middle School when she's not volunteering with the Oklahoma Civil Air Patrol.
Military rations are available to the team, but good food helps keep spirits up as they grind through this process.
The CAP's needs were met by serendipity when volunteer Jinny Chen found out about their needs. Chen began helping coordinate food trucks to visit the affected area on behalf of Oklahoma's Fraternal Order of Police.
“We were bringing in trucks the first few days to help feed the people working in there,” she said. “When that group didn't need help anymore, we started asking around and headed down to the Norman Armory.”
Setting up at the armory, Chen started working the phones with local mobile kitchen operators and chefs to provide food and water for the recovery workers.
On the day I visited, Justin Price of Pizza 23 was serving relief workers.
“We've been down here every day,” he said. “We're just doing what has to be done. Helping the best way we know how.”
“The response has been great,” Chen said. “To keep it going, the trucks need support.”
Chen said over the weekend Chase Bank bought out a number of food trucks to continue their efforts, which meant truck operators could continue to feed workers without putting their businesses in peril.
She also said the First Baptist Church of Little Axe, 3405 168th Ave. NE, desperately needs bug spray, sunscreen, tarps, bungie cords, clotheslines and camping tents. She said she's also tried directing food truck traffic into Carney and Shawnee.
Chen said any chefs or professional cooks interested in donating time, skills and product need to be prepared to serve 75 to 100 for breakfast and dinner, and about 200 for lunch. She said to volunteer for this duty, call her at 326-2705.
Chef Jonathon Turney of Urban Wine Works is one of many chefs and food service pros who has spent the better part of the last week feeding workers in Moore.
“I don't have a lot of money to give, but I know how to feed a lot of people, and feed them well,” he said. “When you go down there and see the job people are doing to help, it's just human instinct to do want to do what you can to help them.”
Meanwhile, benefits, events and donations have popped up in tall order around the Oklahoma City metro to aid the efforts. The enormously successful OK Chefs Relief Pop-Up restaurant raised about $75,000 in two days and was led by Westmoore grad and celebrity chef Danny Bowien, and chefs situated as far south as Kyle Mills of Local in Norman to Skip Ailstock at the Francis Tuttle School of Culinary Arts in far north Oklahoma City. Dozens of other local chefs and food professionals also worked to raise those funds. So, too, has Freebirds World Burrito, which fed 500 people, and Buy For Less and Crest Foods stores hosted chef Barrett Beyer of “Hell's Kitchen” for a charity bratwurst cook-off to raise money on Monday.
At the Operation Barbecue Relief encampment at Hillsdale Free Will Baptist College, 3701 S Frontage Road in Moore, more than 119,000 meals have been served since the team arrived last week. Folks can drop by to volunteer or donate products and see some of the coolest high-performance barbecue equipment around. That operation is still in need of paper plates, chips, prepackaged desserts, fruit cups, fresh fruits and No. 10 sized canned vegetables and Nitrile gloves.
Paul Peterson, of Tulsa, came in last week to prepare pork loins in his industrial mobile smoker out of gratitude for Mother Nature.
“That storm stopped short of my neighborhood by about 10 miles,” he said. “I told my wife, we need to get down there.”
Barbecue pitmaster Travis Clark was out smoking his championship brisket last Friday as a new resident to the area. Clark is in the process of moving from Kansas to Yukon.
“We just closed on a house,” he said. “So, we reckoned we'd best be good neighbors and get down there.”