Houston is often referred to as the biggest little city in the nation. The neighborly love and friendly spirit here is often referenced, and never was it more on display than during Hurricane Harvey.
Jonathan Beitler, owner of the public relations firm Barrelhouse Media, along with countless chefs and restaurants throughout the city, sprang into action immediately after the storm subsided. Armed with a team of other volunteers from around the country, the collective group was able to prepare and distribute more than 250,000 meals over the span of ten days to Houston and surrounding areas.
Beitler shared how this amazing feat came about and what he learned about humanity and the Houston spirit.
What made you personally feel compelled to help?
Immediately after the storm, a friend of mine and I got in a van and drove around 610 looking for people in need of help. We would pick them up and take them to George R. Brown or NRG. You could see the pain in their eyes and I had felt that before. During Hurricane Ike, I had damage to my house. I felt like I understood that heartbreak of being displaced that others were feeling.
How did the volunteer group come together?
I quickly realized that my friends had the same idea and were trying to help any possible as well. We developed a website called IHaveFoodINeedFood.com, which was a platform for people to donate raw products or prepared meals. At the same time, churches, shelters or anyone who needed food could access it.
We got in touch with Adam Brackman who bought the SEARCH building on Fannin and he had recently installed the Midtown Kitchen Collective which is a rental kitchen commissary. He basically handed us the keys and said, “Get to cooking!”
What was the vibe in the kitchen like?
We would work about 12+ hours a day either making hot meals or on the sandwich line. At times, it was exhausting but we were all working toward a common goal. I believe people are inherently good and I believe that is what we saw. People were so willing to give, not just their time but anything we needed. Of all the calls I made, I never got a no.
Would you say the support you got was a testament to the spirit of Houston and its people?
Absolutely. It was very inspiring. We even had people who drove in from Michigan or other states just looking to help. But I do think Houston has a very philanthropic spirit which is one of the things that has always connected me to the city.
What would you say was your takeaway from this tragedy?
It really made me look at my priorities and made me wonder about what else I can continue to do and how I run my business. This storm didn’t discriminate. It affected everyone regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, etc. We put our differences aside and looked at each other as people and that is so important nowadays. I think in a decade or so we will look back at Harvey and say, “Remember what we did and how we came together as one?”
Anything else you want to mention?
Yes, go out and support your local businesses and restaurants right now. So many restaurants gave so much time and food to this cause. Now is the time to go out and give back to them.