SURFSIDE, Fla. — SURFSIDE, Fla. — Shemi Bar-Natan had just begun a new venture after spending a decade in the Israeli army, opening a hummus bar less than a mile from the apartment building that collapsed last month, ten days before the coronavirus pandemic forced the closure of Florida restaurants last year.
However, while the pandemic had a devastating effect on his urban kosher restaurant Vish, the past two weeks have been nothing compared to the disaster that occurred on June 24 in the Champlain Towers South building, which has left more than 150 people missing and rocked the tight-knit community of Surfside, which has just under 6,000 residents and a significant Jewish population.
The restaurant has been open since the disaster, and Mr. Bar-Natan, 58, has come in every day since then to prepare fresh falafel, hummus and tahini, and has given away more than 2,300 balls of falafel to rescuers, survivors, and families of those who have gone missing.
Mr. Bar-Natan expressed his sympathy for the victims and survivors of the building collapse by saying, “My heart goes out to them.” “I will continue to do everything in my power for the community, for the people, and for the people of Surfside. I come here every day with a smile on my face and say, “Today, I must provide excellent service to the public.”
While food trucks were the first on the scene, supplying emergency workers with food, chefs and restaurants from across Miami-Dade County have stepped up to the plate, driving through hours of traffic and rerouted streets to deliver boxed meals to those in need.
Family and friends of the missing and survivors were treated to dozens of takeout boxes stuffed with Korean steakhouse dinners from the Miami outpost of Cote, the chef’s Michelin-starred restaurant in New York.
Visiting a restaurant is the last thing on your mind when you’re in a state of emergency, according to Mr. Shim. “I hope we can provide them with comfort in any way we can.”
As of Thursday afternoon, hundreds of rescuers had recovered the bodies of approximately 64 more people. Many restaurants in Surfside have pledged to continue to assist in this effort.
Joshua Marcus, 47, who has owned Josh’s Deli in Surfside for about 11 years, has been delivering hundreds of sandwiches to those who have been impacted by the collapse and the recovery effort since the disaster. The generosity of individuals and organisations, as well as some free meats and bread deliveries, have enabled Mr. Marcus to provide roasted turkey, cured pastrami, and homemade corn beef to anyone who requests it without breaking the bank.
According to him, being there for his community, including opening his restaurant as a de facto rescue centre, has given him meaning over the last two weeks. However, Mr. Marcus admitted that it was “extremely difficult” to listen to the song over and over and over again. Unlike a psychiatrist, I do not possess the ability to compartmentalise another person’s suffering without becoming emotionally involved in it myself.
During this time of transition, Miami-Dade County’s culinary community has pledged to continue feeding everyone involved in the arduous process of returning remains to families for final disposition. Many chefs and volunteers have reported that they are beginning to heal as a result of their efforts to feed the homeless and those in need.
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We will be there when the circus leaves town, said Sara Liss, the author of “Miami Cooks,” a Surfside resident who also works as a coordinator for Food Rescue U.S. Miami, a nonprofit that has organised matching food donations with those who need free meals. “When the circus leaves town, we will be there,” Liss said.
One of a handful of organisations that stepped in when it became too overwhelming for activists to organise the influx of random donations of food and supplies that had amassed in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.
According to Ellen Bowen, the South Florida location director for Food Rescue U.S., “It’s not like a hurricane that you can predict is going to hit.” “It feels a little bit like an earthquake.”
To ensure that families had hot, nutritious meals that were not made from fast food, Ms. Bowen and her colleagues organised dinners from different restaurants every week. They’ve received peri peri chicken and baked pasta, as well as Brazilian comfort meals of chicken, rice, and beans, as well as a dulce de leche dessert and a note that read, “Please accept this small gesture as our way of expressing our thoughts and prayers to you.” They’ve also received peri peri chicken and baked pasta.
Volunteers have been working around the clock in the kitchen of Surf-n-Sides, a kosher beachside bistro at the town’s community centre that has served as a gathering place for families and local authorities since the building collapsed about a half-mile away from the collapse site.
Using the kosher kitchen of the bistro, Eli Ginsburg, the owner, and Joe Zevuloni, a local activist, repurposed the space to prepare more than 3,000 meals per day with the assistance of chefs and volunteers wearing orange vests. The restaurant has been able to pay for more than $10,000 worth of fresh supplies every day thanks to monetary donations, and they are serving dishes such as white sea bass, sesame chicken tenders, teriyaki salmon, and rib-eye steak among others. A sticker with the words “Strong For Surfside” is placed on the outside of the white paper bags containing the warm pastelitos. A large number of police officers stationed near the collapse site wore the sticker on their uniforms.
A hub of grief, as families come and go, grieving inside the community centre while greeting the volunteers with hugs before seeking refuge at the food bank. Mr. Zevuloni and Mr. Ginsburg are also personally affected by the tragedy, as they both lost friends in the ruins.
In the afternoons, Mr. Zevuloni and several volunteers load up boxes of food onto golf carts lent to them by nearby hotels in order to deliver meals to rescuers on the scene on a daily basis. When he returned home on Wednesday afternoon, he described the experience as “unnerving.” The search and recovery efforts appear to have taken their toll on the rescuers. Gratitude and grief that Mr. Zevuloni witnesses envelop him at the site, such as when he saw a homemade dessert for rescuers delivered by someone who had lost a family member, along with a note saying it was their relative’s favourite dessert.