In the time following a disaster, food can serve as a symbol of love and appreciation. That symbolism can be seen all over Boca Grande lately.
Free or “donation only” food and drink have been showing up this week to sustain the many residents and helpers working to bring back a feeling of normalcy to the Island. Hamburgers, cheeseburgers, hot dogs and corn dogs, chicken patties on a bun, and fries have been on the donation only menu at the food truck at Whidden’s Marina. George and Cindy Cera and their 10-year-old son Tucker have been providing the comfort food there since last Wednesday, a week after the hurricane. Daughter Gabby would like to be helping at the truck, but she is back in school in Fort Myers.
“We probably have been feeding 150 to 200 people a day,” George said. That would mean serving some 600 meals as this story is being written. There is a donation jar on the counter, and the Ceras said people have been generous. All the money collected is used to buy more food.
In addition to sandwiches, they have snack foods and cold drinks. They will continue with this service to their community until other restaurants start opening. They are operating six days a week, only closing for Sunday, when they do some deep cleaning and replenishing of supplies. The Ceras are just starting their third season operating their food truck at Whidden’s.
Another local business is providing sandwiches, fresh fruit, snack food and cold drinks, asking nothing in return, but accepting donations if they are offered. This gift to the community is being made by Bella Vida, in Railroad Plaza. Kerri Jacobs, owner, and Gina Bowers, manager, make the hefty-sized sandwiches on the spot. They have posted a sign saying: “Free Food…Keeping Boca Grande Strong.”
They have been offering their free food for a number of days, once they figured out how to run their generator and managed to clean up the debris from around the grounds. Kerri set up a GoFundMe page as soon as the storm passed, perhaps being the first to do so. Her efforts have gotten good support, and that has helped with the supplies, she said. Those supplies also include non-food items, such as tarps, and tools, etc.
They are hoping the restrictions on access to the Island will end soon and regular customers will be returning, since it is impossible for them to make plans for the future until that happens. Kerri said she opened the up-scale coffee shop two years ago, in “mid-COVID,” and now the biggest hurricane of the century has brought more uncertainty, but she plans to be around a long time, and is happy to feed those who are helping to keep Boca Grande strong through these difficult times.
Bubbaque’s is a relative newcomer to the Island, but they are making itself lots of friends, providing free food to those who are working so hard for the betterment of the community. Bubbaque’s is a food truck that serves all barbeque, all the time. It may be pork, or it may be chicken, but it is barbeque, nonetheless. Jason Kazbour and Jeff DeMott are the owners of the franchised food truck. They are from Bradenton and have been providing free precooked meals to residents and clean-up crews in Punta Gorda, and now Boca Grande for a week or more.
They make the meals offsite and bring them into town hot and ready. They park their food truck, open their serving window, and start handing out boxes of food to anyone who wants one. The first day they were in Boca Grande they had made 500 meals. They were ready to head home 50 minutes later, when all the meals had been claimed. The next day they were in Boca Grande they had 700 meals prepared. They were out of food in an hour and 15 minutes. As this is written, they have committed to being in Boca Grande two more days. These meals are hearty and tasty, according to happy “customers.”
Jason and Jeff have been hired by Pavement Technology, a company headquartered in West Lake, Ohio, but with an office in Tampa. Mike Faustini, operations manager for the Tampa office, explained that the company’s owner, Colin Durante, owns a home in Boca Grande and asked his Tampa crew to check on damage to his property and make necessary repairs.
When Mike Faustini reported that he had brought extra cases of water for the workers, Durante instructed him to do more for the workers and the community. He wanted food brought in, tarps, fresh fruit, dry goods, gas and other items that would help in the rebuilding of the community. The Bubbaque’s owners provide the food at cost, and do not charge Pavement Technology for the manpower. By the time the food and broader program ends, they will have served more than 4,000 hot meals.
Also providing hot food for anyone needing it in Boca Grande was Hudson’s Grocery and the Sinclair Food Truck. Carlington Sinclair and John Paul Turner, along with Carlington’s mother, Patricia Davis, were cooking their signature Jamaican dishes for anyone in need of a hot meal.
Hudson’s provided the food and covered other expenses, while the cooks all donated their hours and talents. “It was a lot of work,” Carlington noted, “but it was a blessing to be able to give back to the community and help people. I haven’t felt better since I started the food truck,” he said, even though he is splitting his time between the food truck and helping The Gasparilla Inn recover from the storm.
Sinclair’s prepared a variety of food for its give-away menu. “We prepared everything as if we were opening for business at any other time,” Carlington said. “Customers” could order whatever they wanted from the menu: jerk chicken, Jamaican rice and peas, fried ripe plantain, sausage and onion, a chicken sandwich. Everything was cooked on the spot, hot and fresh.
At the time of this story, Sinclair’s had served lunch on four days, with each day providing more meals than the one before — a total of about 650 meals in all, plus a variety of cold drinks.
Doreen and Mike Sessa, owners of 5 Star Plumbing of Southwest Florida, also were among the companies that have been feeding people as clean-up work is going on throughout the Island. Their work focused on the Boca Grande Club workers.
“A lot of our plumbers were here to help clean up and we decided to feed all the workers,” Doreen said. They fed at least 100 people a day, over the course of several days. They have been grilling food, with a different offering each day. They had hot dogs one day, sausage and onions another, she explained.
One of their suppliers, Gorman’s Plumbing Supply, also helped with food, bringing in ribs for the workers. Jon Burdette, owner of Seaboard Engineering and Construction, also helped with the food program. For the Sessa’s it became a full family affair, with their son helping out, and Doreen’s sister working the grill at times. Doreen noted that there was a lot of work going on at Boca Grande Club, and they were happy to be able to help with the work, as well as to feed all those who pitched in.
Last week, we included a photo of The Gasparilla Inn & Club staff who provided the community with dinner several evenings. They have been serving meals to hungry islanders for days, and we can’t even begin to tell you how amazing their food is.
The community is ever grateful for these groups who have helped us come together to break bread at the tables all across the island.