John Vilardebo was taking his lunch break from cleaning out his flooded out apartment on Beach 88th Street in Rockaway Beach. "One thing we're doing out here is eating better than ever," Villardebo said. "This stuff is delicious." Vilardebo wasn't referring to the hamburger meals being distributed in Styrofoam containers by the Red Cross, or the plastic-wrapped turkey sandwiches given away by the city (although both are eaten and greatly appreciated). Vilardebo was praising the cuisine next to a house-turned-volunteer hub nicknamed The Mansion on Beach 96th Street. He was applying hot sauce to a chicken taco, but he had his choice between pierogies, pulled pork kimchi sliders, and three soups—vegan vegetable, chicken noodle, and grilled acorn squash.
The soups were courtesy of Urban Matthews, a retired chef living on Beach 97th Street. "If I didn't have this, I'd be cooped up all day waiting for the power to come back on," he said, adding, "They taste good because they're made with love and soul." Matthews was right—they were pretty damn tasty.
Residents have other choices besides food made with the steely hand of bureaucracy: church groups from as far away as Tennessee distribute dry goods. Residents plop down grills in parking lots and pass out hot dogs, or turn their fruit-distributing businesses into soup delivery services for those in need. The station at 96th is a tad more "upscale," if such a thing can exist in a disaster zone.
The kimchi sliders came from the co-owners of The Fisherman's Dog, a Rockaway-based food truck that had only begun serving a few weeks before Sandy hit. "We were pretty much the first business to open after the storm. For three days it was just the two of us serving hundreds of people," Terence McNicholas said, referring to his partner Jared Adler. "We served every edible thing we had on that truck. A friend knows someone at the mayor's office, so we were able to get on the Food Truck Association's plan to be sponsored by the city."
McNicholas, who, like his partner, is a native of Rockaway, said that what food they can't buy with the money from the Mayor's Fund is donated. "They're giving us plenty, enough to do what we're doing." They also received 800 pounds of beef and in seven days had served nearly all of it. "If the city money stops, we'll find private funding somehow. But we want to keep serving food to the residents and volunteers."
McNicholas noted that he couldn't have done any of this if it weren't for volunteers at The Mansion and other helpers affiliated with Rockaway Taco. "At first I wasn't so sure about these guys, if they were going to treat this community like their playground," McNicholas says of the transplanted Williamsburg set. "But now I have a lot more confidence in that they actually care about this place, and they want to give back to it."