We had the pleasure of welcoming Andrea Votta onto our chef-volunteer team during the inaugural CulinaryCorps trip to New Orleans in 2007. She was the self-described “shy one,” the kind of cook who refrains from using her ego like a battering ram to get people’s attention or to get her way in the kitchen. But once she was behind the stove, turns out she was anything but timid. In fact, she was a phenomenal cook. Fortunately for us all, as the trip wore on and Andrea’s confidence grew, we got to know her not just for her culinary chops but as a compassionate, positive, and all-together inspiring person. We knew there would be great things ahead for her.
Fast forward 5 years and Andrea has decided to give back to her community in other ways; she recently graduated as a registered nurse from The Dixon School of Nursing. But while Andrea’s career may have taken a turn, her commitment to giving back through food has not.
When it was clear that the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy was more than any one organization could handle, Andrea took it upon herself to create a mobile food distribution effort serving hot dogs and other easy-to-make foods from her car. In less than 24-hours, she collected over $600 in funding and on Saturday, November 3rd and her journey to help was underway.
Andrea’s grassroots feeding effort speaks to two things we here at CulinaryCorps believe in deeply. First, that kindness begets kindness and sets off a sort of “goodwill avalanche.” And second, even the smallest action can make big a difference amid the chaos. We couldn’t be more proud of Andrea and her efforts. Here is her first-person account of day’s events:
What a crazy-awesome day! Early in the morning, myself and three of my friends, Cait, Kim and Patty, headed to Sam’s Club to stock up on supplies. We purchased as much food and water as we could with the money that I raised. The plan was to buy enough to completely fill one Subaru and one Civic. But after our colossal shop, we needed more room. Who knew you couldn’t fit 30 cases of water and 50 packages of rolls in two cars!? As luck would have it, one of my instructors from nursing school had met us at Sam’s just to help buy supplies. When she saw we were short on room she offered up her car last minute to help accommodate the extra load.
After that, fate just kept smiling down at us. As we were standing in line to checkout, the man in front of us asked what we were doing. After an explanation of who I was and what were were doing, it turned out that I had gone to Africa with one of his good friends! After he had finished paying for his stuff, he comes back and hands us a $50 Sam’s gift card! I was blown away by his generosity.
Groceries secured, we packed the cars, got situated, and off we went! First stop, Staten Island. There was no real set destination, it was just a kind of “see if we can find a spot” plan. We spotted a group of guys with a huge grill so I stopped and asked if they wanted any of our hot dogs, but they were pretty set. We drove to another location a few blocks away that had set up a food and water station. They were getting pizza delivered so off we went again.
On the drive up to Staten Island, I had spoken with my friend who is an EMS worker that was deployed at Union Beach. She told me there were about 30 EMS workers stationed there and that no food had arrived for them. We arrived at the school my friend was stationed at. Manned by the National Guard, there was a long line of cars out front to collect water, ice, and MREs. We met up with my friend and promptly grilled up some hot dogs and made thick peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the crew.
We chatted for a bit with the emergency workers. I asked them if they knew of a location that we could take the rest of our food to, and they gave me a name of a shelter. Time to hit the road again!
As we were driving to the shelter, we saw a church that was taking clothing donations. I stopped and asked if they were taking food donations as well. They were! These people were so friendly and so appreciative. They helped unload everything. I felt good about leaving the food with them because I knew they would make sure it got to people who really needed it.
Before we left Philly, I filled a two-gallon tank with gas because of the horror stories of long gas lines, which were all true. As I was getting ready to pour it in to refuel for my trip home, I remembered that these people were using generators to keep their fridges going. I ran back down to the food pantry and asked if they wanted the gas and their eyes just lit up. It was great!
After that, we all piled back into our cars and headed home. It was a long, crazy day but definitely worth it. Next time, I will be even better prepared. My advice for anyone who wants to do something similar is to take your time and plan accordingly. It’s easy to be unprepared for all circumstances when you’re so anxious and eager to help out.
Now that I’m home, I’m spearheading a project I’m calling “Operation Backpack Love.” Many people survived Sandy with only the clothes on their backs so I’m on a mission to get friends and families to help me fill backpacks with basic essentials so we can deliver them as the recovery wears on. I’ve started reaching out to people through different online avenues, and I’ve gotten a pretty decent response so far. Hopefully this is just the beginning so we can get help to where help is needed most.
If you or someone you know would like to donate to Andrea’s “Operation Backpack Love” the current needs are:
- Warm socks (Adult and Child)
- Mittens/Gloves/Hats (Adult and Child)
- Toiletries (Toothpaste, brushes, deodorant, razors, floss)
- Camping Lanterns (Battery operated with spares)
- Non-perishable snacks,
- OTC Medicines
- Diapers and Wet Wipes
To make an in-kind or monetary donation, contact Andrea at firstname.lastname@example.org. 100% of all monies collected will go toward aiding those affected by Hurricane Sandy.