FORT MYERS, Fla. — With food more of a luxury than a given in this devastated city after Hurricane Ian, a local man is feeding hundreds of his neighbors and going beyond the staple food options often offered after a devastating storm.
Chef and musician Fritz Caraher, 44, is cooking up pork chops, chicken, vegetables and rice for anyone who doesn’t have a full stomach.
Caraher began feeding hundreds of residents from a distribution center almost immediately after the storm, but the number quickly grew to around 1,000 and continues to rise.
“I’ve been doing charity events in the city for 20 years,” he said. “We want to take care of the community that takes care of us.”
Many people in the city are still without power or electricity four days after the hurricane caused widespread damage, making it difficult to cook hot meals.
People are distressed and having a hard time because of Mother Nature, but there’s nothing anyone can do, said Calbert Sterling, 49, who plans to start throwing food out of his house tomorrow.
Limited food remained across the city on Sunday as rebuilding efforts progressed.
Most restaurants remained closed, except for a few food trucks, plus a couple of diners with few food options.
“Finding food is the hardest part right now,” said Tony Tobler, 35, who didn’t stock up on food before the storm because he feared his food would rot without power to keep it cold. “Food is scarce.”
Caraher, who has been a one-man organizer, asked his friends to volunteer and enlisted the help of an out-of-town cook who helped prepare the food, he said.
Donations have come in from everywhere, including from nearby restaurants whose refrigerated food would soon have spoiled.
Some food has been sent and some people who have come to eat have also donated money, but much more is needed.
So far, only breakfast and dinner are offered; Caraher would prefer to serve food every day if possible.
“We’re getting things ready,” he said, referring to Sunday night’s menu of chicken, coffee, rice and vegetables.
Caraher’s generosity doesn’t end with the food, either. Those who share meals can walk away with free diapers, baby formula, towels, shoes, water, and dog and cat food that could better help with life at home as residents to try to return to a sense of normalcy.
But the main goal is to offer something different to eat that Floridians would not normally have during these times.
“We’re putting up grills and we’re buying propane fryers for fried foods so people don’t have to eat cold salami sandwiches,” he said.
By Sunday night, more than 100 cars had lined up to eat inside the Miners Plaza shopping center on McGregor Boulevard.
“We need the food. Our refrigerator doesn’t work,” said Mark Abramson, 58, who brought a truckload of people to participate with him.
Most of his neighbors have no cash and need something to eat, he added.
One person who came looking for food said Caraher’s efforts were much needed and greatly appreciated.
“Some people are in dire straits. Most of my friends, basically everyone I know, lost everything in their house and can’t get food,” said Keri Hendry, 51, noting that most People do not have access to the Internet or cell phones. telephone service or energy. “Something like this is a godsend and I am extremely grateful.”