Storm Soup – Diary of Hurricane Sandy

Day One – Sunday, October 28th

Word is Hurricane Sandy is approaching with high winds and rains coming to our area Sunday night.  While we expected the storm on Monday, it seemed like we should proceed with caution and send out the “code blue” alert.  Sunday dinner guests of the soup kitchen were told that Elijah’s Promise would remain open through the night for those who wanted to stay safe indoors.  Eighteen people spent the night.

Day Two – Monday, October 29th

We planned ahead to close the culinary school and Better World café for Monday and Tuesday.  When Chef Pam and Robert, our social worker arrived to the kitchen in the morning, our overnight guests were drinking coffee and finishing up breakfast.  They assembled lunch for the day and meals for the Ozanam Men’s shelter next door.  All those who came in for lunch were given two bag meals to take home for dinner and lunch the next day in case we couldn’t open up after the storm passed.  We directed all the homeless to the city shelter and closed up shop around 2:30pm as the wind and rain intensified.

Day Three – Tuesday, October 30th

The roads into New Brunswick were closed.  Only essential personnel were allowed through.  All we had to say was we worked at Elijah’s Promise and we were waved on through.  The waters along the river banks were high, but it didn’t appear that we had gotten the kind of beating we were expecting.  When staff arrived at the soup kitchen, all seemed ok… no damage, no flooding, just no power.  We went inside to figure out our plan of action for the day: bag meals and soup…easy to prepare, easy to serve.  And while we didn’t have electric, we had a gas stove.  Within a few minutes, folks from the neighborhood and some of our regular guests poked their heads in to see if we had coffee.  Chef Pam, the kitchen Manager, got to it…boiled water, poured it over the coffee grounds in a makeshift filter and filled the carafe again and again.  She jokingly called it “jailhouse coffee”.  Everyone agreed, whether the cup was chunky or extra chunky, we were happy for the hot drink and grateful that the storm had passed.

Day Four –Wednesday, October 31st

Both buildings opened up and staff came in to prepare meals for the soup kitchen, meals on wheels, the homeless shelter and local halfway house.  Guests started coming in early to the soup kitchen.  After a day without power and access to stores and supplies, people were hungry.  Volunteers showed up to help cook and deliver meals to the seniors.  Without power, both kitchens were dark, so candles and flashlights helped, but it was still difficult to see to chop and prep.   Those delivering meals on wheels to  dark and cold buildings were greeted by “hallelujah” and “thank God”.  The homebound seniors didn’t expect folks to get out and deliver meals already.  As I drove around town delivering meals, it became more clear how the storm had affected our area.

Day Five – Thursday, November 1st

Still no power.  Abby, one of our long time volunteers showed up with lanterns, batteries, and headlamps all of which lit up the kitchen like a Christmas tree.  Staff and volunteers bustled around the kitchen working to use up all the perishable food as quickly as possible before it would spoil.  So far, we only had to toss a little milk and yogurt.  With lanterns hanging around the walls and headlights beaming about, the kitchen resembled a M.A.S.H. unit…and fixing soup was our mission.  After all these years of being called a soup kitchen and rarely serving soup, now it was all about preparing soup.  Each day, people coming to dine at the kitchen gathered at tables over soup to share news and information about the destruction, devastation and emotional toll of the storm.

Day Six—Friday, November 2nd

Word on the streets is it could be many more days without electricity.  We were getting worried that we would lose our frozen food if we didn’t get it to frozen storage in the next day or so.  Chef Pam and crew had used most of our perishable food and if we could find a home for the frozen stuff, we could continue to churn out meals in our makeshift set up for a few more days.  A plea for frozen storage was sent out through New Brunswick City Market.  With hit or miss cell phone service and no internet access, fielding calls to help was a challenge.  J&J, Tumulty’s, Mike’s Courtside, The Heldrich, Stage Left and others called and emailed willing to help with space.  Our friends at Devco called to say the Fresh Grocer had a van full of produce to donate if we could use it and when they heard our plight, they offered to drop off the produce and pick up our frozen food and store it for us.

Day Seven—Saturday, November 3rd

The menu today included soup, sandwiches and fresh fruit thanks to the donation from the Fresh Grocer.  We dropped off fruit and fresh veggies to the city shelter and distributed food packages to people who stopped in for help to fill their bare pantries after days without power.  Folks dropped off donations of food, water and supplies all day.   Tom Clark, one of the founders of Elijah’s Promise brought REMM Heating over with a generator to hook up our reach in refrigerator and freezer and hook up some lights until power is restored.  Thanks to so many helping hands, hundreds of meals have been served each day since the storm!

It’s only been a few days since Hurricane Sandy blew through our area leaving a wake of destruction and turmoil.  For so many, life will never be the same.  The images of flooding, houses and communities blown away, boats and boardwalks upended, trees ripped from the earth…terrible images emblazoned on our minds and hearts.  In the midst of the harrowing and heartache is another image for me…the image of Storm Soup.

Perhaps you know of the tale called Stone Soup.  It’s a story about a wayfaring stranger who comes to a war torn town where the people are hungry.  He sets up a pot full of hot water and puts a stone in the pot and tells the townspeople about stone soup, inviting each person to put something from their meager pantry into the pot.  With each contribution, the soup gets tastier, the pot fills higher and there is much to share with all who are hungry in the town.

And so,  after this storm, while much has been lost, there is hope.  With each gesture of kindness, because of each contribution, there is soup.   And through the efforts and compassion of each of us, the hungry will be nourished, homes will be rebuilt, and communities restored.