THE BLOG

Cooking Up a Storm -- With Love

11/21/2012 02:53 pm ET | Updated Jan 21, 2013
  • Dar Dowling New York–based writer and visual artist

Staten Island is my hometown, and these days parts of it look more like a "war zone" than the island I grew up on, and the same can be said for the Rockaways and Long Island. While I love to eat, I can't really cook worth a damn, and I regularly burn pots when I do. Yet even I know that while cleaning up and rebuilding help, there's no doubt that food relief is one of the keys to success, and some amazing people have been on the front lines -- cooking.

During Sandy, a friend's parents, Alex and Genriyetta Germanovsky, two seniors, were rescued by the National Guard after being trapped on the second floor of their Midland Beach home by an eight-foot wave. Like so many others, their home was ravaged, and during those early days fresh, hot food was in short supply. While the Red Cross and the National Guard would roll in ready-to-eat meals and supplies, partially supported by funds generated by the Sandy Telethon along with bank donations, it was the people in the surrounding neighborhoods of the hardest hit areas who made a difference on the ground -- right away. Breaking out their pots, pans and coffee pots, and cooking up some love -- grassroots style.

That Tuesday, right after the storm ended, Mary Beth Melendez, a graduate student at the College of Staten Island, along with some friends cleaned out their cupboards, went shopping and started cooking. After whipping up a car load of hot, tasty food, off they went with Marybeth's seeing-eye dog to South Beach. The fact that Marybeth is blind may make this story more extraordinary for some, but for her it was business as usual. There was no way she wasn't going to the disaster zone and, ultimately, setting up a makeshift distribution center on the street.

In those early hours and days, many others in those "war zones" pitched in, and since then people across the city have been reaching out and bringing meals and a whole lot of love into the affected areas. Last Friday, I was at the Integral Yoga institute on 13th street, where Tania Turcinovic and her crew were busy in the kitchen chopping veggies, and cooking up 250 vegetarian meals to take to the Rockaways. After five hours of prep and cooking, they delivered the meals to Occupy Sandy, a new arm of Occupy Wall Street. The volunteers were grateful to have the meals -- vegetarians have to eat too!

While Tania was making her delivery, a hundred spaghetti and meatball meals arrived too -- clearly, as Tania put it, "everyone was taking care of everyone." Her crew will be cooking again this weekend at Integral Yoga Institute. In fact, every week they want to deliver 250 hot and nutritious meals. Volunteers and donations are needed to keep them going, and you can learn more on their YourCaring webpage.

Rocco Dispirito, the host of Now Eat This, was reportedly in Midland Beach cooking up chicken soup and other tasty treats, which my sister Mardel Black, along with my teenage niece and nephew, were busy delivering along with sandwiches and supplies. While working, she saw lots of makeshift food deliveries come in, including two guys making their daily delivery of boxes and boxes full of Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pronto Pizza dropping off some pies and a van stuffed with Subway sandwiches pulling up too -- all in space of an hour. One way or another, Sandy has made all of us neighbors.

Then there's the fact that the city partnered with NYC food truck operators to roll into disaster areas in Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island to supplement the ready-to-eat meals the city has given out. Jet Blue also partnered with the NYC Food Truck Association to feed individuals in blacked out areas during that first week of the storm. Food trucks served up everything from vegan food to tacos. While the city has been giving those food trucks a hard time in the past, they really showed up for us. I was in one of those blacked-out areas, and frankly a warm meal really hit the spot.

If you've read any of my previous posts, you already know that I'm a fan of trolling twitter for information. So while on reconnaissance, I discovered that last weekend you could find Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan, the founder of TheKitchn.com, who, after working with other volunteers in Rockaway on Saturday to get everyone fed, had teamed up with the Tortilla Flats Food Truck to feed the people of Red Hook who were still without power.

That's not all Sara Kate, along with Zoe Adlersberg, a photographer, and Erin Wile, a producer, they teamed up to create Food for Sandy -- Moms with Heart & Food, which is raising funds to continue to use food trucks to roll into the affected areas, providing hot meals made with love. Their goal is to raise enough money to keep the meals coming until January. When you do the math it breaks down like this -- one food truck can serve 500 people, costing $2,500 a day, equaling five bucks a meal.

If you're feeling generous, and need your kitchen organized, with a donation of $3,500, you can get Sara Kate's "Kitchen Cure," which basically means that she'll come over to your house to purge, organize, clean, set-up and care for your kitchen, and more than likely make you laugh a lot. If you're feeling extra generous you can adopt a family in one of the disaster zones and donate your Kitchen Cure to them. You can also check out other donation options on their Indiegog page.

The one thing about New Yorkers is that when a crisis hits we go all out -- and keep doing it. So many people are doing what they can: picking up sandwiches, making pizzas, cooking up tacos, ladling out chicken soup and brewing up some coffee -- nurturing the body and the soul.

While I wish I'd never met Sandy, she's really brought out the best in New Yorkers. So I know where I'll be next weekend... maybe I'll see you.