It’s been about a month since Hurricane Sandy battered New York and New Jersey’s shores. For Terrence McNicholas and Jared Adler, it’s been the most exhausting, exhilarating, and rewarding month in their 24 years of life.
The childhood friends are also co-owners of a food truck called The Fisherman’s Dog, which serves local seafood and other specialties along Rockaway’s scenic waterfront. When they both lost their jobs last spring, they came together and turned proverbial lemons into lemonade. They pooled their life savings, bought a used food truck, and parked it outside McNicholas’s family bait shop in Rockaway Park. By August, they’d gotten their business up and running. They even got a Kickstarter project funded to repaint and revamp their truck. Then came the curveball: four weeks later, Hurricane Sandy hit.
The truck survived, thanks to their good sense to take it to higher ground before the storm. The duo awoke the next morning eager to use their good fortune to serve their community. In 24 hours time they turned The Fisherman’s Dog into a mobile soup kitchen, serving hot meals to stranded residents on a pay-what-you-can basis. Soon they waived the fee entirely. Theirs was the first business to reopen after the storm.
I met McNicholas and Adler while volunteering in Rockaway Park several Saturdays ago. I’d caught a ride out there in a van full of strangers to see how I could help. About 30 seconds after I stepped out of the van, Adler came over and asked if anyone would assist him in chopping potatoes.
He wasn’t kidding. He led me over to a giant mound of potatoes, which a volunteer was washing with a hose. They’d been donated by a local food distributor — as had the heaps of vegetables, loaves of bread, beans, sausages, chicken, spices, and hundreds of pounds of ground meat that surrounded their truck.
At this point it was 9 a.m. and a small crowd of hungry locals was already forming. Two huge cauldrons of stew and gumbo were already cooking. Residents and city workers came by all day, and by nightfall – when the entire peninsula went dark – nearly every ounce of the food donations was gone. I’d made my way from chopping potatoes in the lot to flipping burgers in the truck, shaping meatballs, assembling tacos, distributing hot dogs, and just about everything in between. Adler, McNicholas, and their small team of volunteers needed all the help they could get.
The story of how these guys responded so quickly after the storm is a story of social media used for good. They saw a huge problem in Rockaway immediately following Sandy, with no grocery stores, restaurants, or soup kitchens open to feed its 130,000 stranded residents. They did their best to serve food from their truck but quickly ran out of limited supplies. They reached out for help.
“A friend of mine had written a Facebook post about how cabs were price gouging in the city because of gas lines,” said McNicholas. “Most commenters expressed outrage, but my reply was simple and pointed: #firstworldproblems."
McNicholas went on to explain the dire situation in the Rockaways on his friend’s Facebook wall. Pretty soon his friends wanted to help. “The very next day, my buddy and 9 other volunteers from the NY Food Film Festival showed up with 800 lbs of burger meat donated by Burger Maker.”
According to Adler, a line of residents and city workers wrapped around the corner the rest of the day. Burgers were packed up and shuttled throughout the neighborhood.
The boys’ independent operation caught the attention of The Mayor’s Fund to Advance NYC, who quickly contracted them to continue serving free food to their community. Soon the Mayor’s Fund mobilized massive fleets of food trucks all over New York City’s hardest hit areas. “You never know who’s paying attention,” McNicholas said.
After a whirlwind month, the power is finally back on in most parts of the Rockaways, and the duo has closed up their makeshift soup kitchen. But their community pride is stronger now than ever and they’re not wasting any time; the truck is already open for business in its regular location on Beach Channel Drive.
“We’re looking forward to summer, to having all you can eat fish Fry nights, full moon parties and seeing smiling faces every day. When things return to normal, we will be busy getting ready for what we hope is the best summer of our lives.”