On September 8, as the Oregon State Fairgrounds were transforming into an emergency shelter for people and animals, orange food truck Sancho’s Tacos pulled up and began serving under orange skies.
From the moment wildfire shelters sprang up in Salem last week there was something there to eat. Restaurant owners, food trucks and social service agencies moved quickly to provide meals and provision snacks for fire evacuees and first responders.
In the days that followed, Las Gorditas Ricas and Xicha made burritos, Rolling Bridgeway Cafe cooked breakfast, Isaac’s Downtown brewed coffee, Great Harvest launched a buy-one-give-one loaf of bread campaign, and The Kitchen on Court Street teamed up with Taproot and Rafns’ to prepare 1,200 meals.
Coronavirus and Oregon wildfires: COVID-19 left some Salem-area businesses gasping for air. Then came the smoke.
Evacuees line up to receive meals from Sancho’s Tacos and Grill food truck at the Oregon State Fairgrounds in Salem, Oregon, on Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020. (Photo: CONNOR RADNOVICH / STATESMAN JOURNAL)
Epilogue Kitchen & Bar canceled their regular service hours to focus on serving free meals to evacuees instead, and this weekend they’re doing both. Honky Tonk Bar and Grill coordinated numerous donations of food and supplies. Sybil’s Omelettes offered to match financial donations to the Red Cross. La Margarita Express showed up to the Fairgrounds with a trunk full of enchiladas.
“We just saw a need and we just thought we can help in some way,” said owner Xochitl Muñoz, “and for us it’s food.”
The first days of restaurant deliveries addressed the immediate need, and there’s now a massive effort, both centralized and community-led, to keep the food coming.
What follows are a few of the many ways members of the Salem community are showing up, despite fires still burning, ready to offer a meal to whomever needs it.
King’s Kitchen collected donations
Fork Forty Food Hall closed early on Tuesday, September 8, because of worsening air quality and concern about the fires. King Khong Phou, owner of King’s Kitchen, didn’t head home for the day. Instead, he issued a call via social media for donations, both of supplies and via Cash App.
“If I’m not going to be open I might as well help,” Khong Phou said, and “I figured I might as well utilize Fork Forty as a hub to bring in donations.”
He received $200 in 30 minutes from the restaurant’s fans. Before the end of the day he was able to deliver bags of supplies — snacks, water, coloring books — to the Fairgrounds.
Oregon wildfires: United Way opens hub near fairgrounds to distribute items to wildfire evacuees
In the days that followed, Khong Phou shared non-perishable food and supplies to Volcanoes Stadium, area churches, Timber Unity and the ARCHES project.
He focused on prepackaged foods and non-food supplies, he said, on the understanding it might be difficult for first responders and firefighters to enjoy a hot meal, “but if they need snacks and bars and water, stuff they could grab and go, I can do that.”
The food hall reopened this week, including King’s Kitchen. Back behind the wok, Khong Phou is now offering hot meals to evacuees in need through a partnership with Taproot Lounge and Epilogue Kitchen & Cocktails.
Breweries making breakfasts
“I just went to the Fairgrounds on Wednesday morning,” said Ian Croxall, and “said is there anything we can do to help?”
Red Cross representative Joanne Stone asked him if Santiam Brewery could make 200 sandwiches for lunch.
A few hours later, ham and cheese sandwiches bagged up and delivered, Santiam began a week-long spree of making and delivering meals. They partnered with Ratchet Brewing to collect and deliver supplies bought with the support of the breweries’ Facebook fans.
From left: Cat Frum, Jennifer Helvie and Caitlin Fobert prepare food for evacuees at Santiam Brewing in Salem, Oregon on Friday, Sept. 18, 2020. (Photo: BRIAN HAYES / STATESMAN JOURNAL)
After asking them for help, said Croxall, “I thought I might get a few hundred dollars. 24 hours later we had $14,000 dollars to work with.”
They used the resources to fill their vans, typically used for delivering kegs, with diapers, toiletries, detergent, and toys.
“People really kind of stepped up,” Croxall said, “this thing started happening, the relief, it just kind of grew.”
Venti’s, Amadeus focus on firefighters
As other restaurants served evacuees at the Fairgrounds, Diana Ramallo, owner of Amadeus, and Conrad Venti, one of the owners of Salem’s two Venti’s locations, focused on feeding firefighters themselves.
“I had heard about people up there digging trenches against these fires,” Venti said, “and they’re paramedics most of the time. Just knowing what they go through, we want to show as much support as we can.”
On Monday, September 14, Venti’s and Amadeus partnered to deliver trays of pasta with marinara, garlic bread, and cookies, funded with the help of customer support directly to Salem’s 11 area fire stations.
Station 8, at Chemeketa Community College on Lancaster Drive NE, is where the department is housing the crews working up in the canyon.
Bringing burritos directly to them, said Venti, “it’s our gift of hospitality in very crazy time.”
Emergency kitchen in elementary school
Paul Losch, chef-owner of Ruddick/Wood restaurant in Newberg, has teamed up with Cody Drew, Nick Bell, and Wesley Jones, owners of Renegade Food Truck to prepare and deliver meals to evacuees, especially those who fled the Chehalem Mountain-Bald Peak fire.
They began the initiative out of the restaurant kitchen but then moved to Edwards Elementary School, the school currently closed because of COVID-19.
With the financial support of World Central Kitchen, the non-profit food relief organization founded by celebrity chef José Andrés, the team are preparing several hundred lunches and dinners daily.
Smoked brisket tacos, chicken and rice with harissa and cherry tomatoes, and prime rib sandwiches, their efforts have been supported by donations from several area farms. Volunteers are working in shifts to cook, box up and deliver meals.
Cody Drew prepares to rice for people displaced for the wildfires, at Edwards Elementary School in Newberg, Oregon on Monday, Sept. 14, 2020. (Photo: BRIAN HAYES / STATESMAN JOURNAL)
“We got 200 volunteers,” he said, “people were calling, some people were just showing up. It’s been insane the number of people who wanted to help.”
This week the Chehalem Mountain-Bald Peak fire was 100% contained. Many area residents, including Stephanie Baker, returned home to power still shut off, needing to empty entire refrigerators into the garbage. Baker picked up three meals on Monday for her husband and neighbor.
“Just because people are going home,” said Losch, “doesn’t mean they’ve relieved the stress of having to eat.”
800 meals daily delivered to hotels
Gregg Peterson, previously the chef owner of Salem’s Broadway Cafe and then the Independence Grill & Bar, is now managing a much bigger kitchen.
He’s now the chef at The Salem Salvation Army Kroc Center where, with the help of an army of volunteers, he’s responsible for catering 400 lunches and 400 dinners daily on behalf of the Red Cross. On Tuesday morning a group of volunteers boxed up hundreds of chicken Caesar salad wraps.
The Red Cross is managing relief efforts at the Fairgrounds. While area restaurants and coffee shops are still supplying breakfasts, Peterson and his crew are handling the bulk of the boxed meals for evacuees.
Some are distributed at the Fairgrounds, but most said Red Cross coordinator Lacy Halbrook, are being delivered to 10 hotel sites in Salem and Woodburn where evacuees are staying.
Laura Fyn is coordinating volunteers for the meal effort, between 15 and 20 for every meal.
“The community response has been incredibly favorable and very unique,” she said, “we have a wait list for volunteers right now, that’s how many have come forward.”
More than a week in to fire response, Salem’s restaurant community hasn’t slowed in its desire to help.
“We’ve wound up having more than they need,” she said, “I’m on the phone all day with folks wanting to help. It’s incredible.”
Want to help?
To make meals at the Kroc Center call Deanna Markham 360-896-4991
To volunteer at the Fairgrounds Register at RedCross.org
To donate food to the Red Cross Call Laura Fyn 503-602-6454
Emily Teel is the Food & Drink Editor at the Statesman Journal. Contact her at [email protected], Facebook, or Twitter. See what she’s cooking and where she’s eating this week on Instagram: @emily_teel
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