SURFSIDE, Fla. – Nicolette Daniel pulled a wheeled cart packed with takeout boxes of chicken tenders, French fries and deep-fried Oreos to the intersection where police officers stood by their cars Tuesday, directing traffic a block from the collapsed condominium tower in Surfside, Florida.
“They can’t leave their spot,” said Daniel, so determined to offer first responders a hot meal that she and her husband hired a food truck to cook 350 meals that are being distributed in a parking lot of a nearby church.
One of the officers Daniel approached, Sgt. Patricia Vazquez, thanked her for the offered meal, but graciously declined.
“So many people have been coming by with food,” Vazquez said, patting her stomach. “Somebody just came by here with 50 Big Macs.”
Since a huge section of the Champlain Towers South building fell to the ground early Thursday, an ever-growing virtual army of volunteers has been offering everything from water and energy drinks to pizza and deep-fried Oreos to firefighters, police officers and other rescue workers working 12-hour shifts at the site.
At Casa Church near the disaster site, Pastor Ezequiel Fattore got to work handing out refreshments to first responders within hours of the building collapse Thursday, beginning with a few bottles of water and Gatorade.
“We had them in the fridge and we started with those,” said Fattore, whose congregation soon started pitching in to help. “A couple of hours later, I was at Costco spending $600. Those were the first donations.”
In a side room at Fattore’s church on Tuesday, cases of water were stacked four high, along with a large assortment of energy drinks, bottled iced coffees and bags of chips and other snacks. As volunteers packed coolers to distribute among police and emergency crews in the area, a van pulled up to offload more refreshments.
“They’re coming from another church,” Fattore said. “I have no idea what they’re bringing.”
In the church’s parking lot, Robert Martinez and his crew of three busied themselves frying chicken tenders and Oreos in Martinez’s circus-themed food truck.
Martinez said they’d brought enough to feed 350 people.
“Once we got the call to come help out and do whatever we can, there was no decision to make,” Martinez said. “It was like, `Let’s go!’”
The call came from Daniel and her husband, Patrick Daniel, who have a law firm in Houston. Nicolette Daniel said they traveled from Texas to Florida to offer whatever assistance they could to victims’ families and emergency workers.
Daniel said she felt compelled to give back after the outpouring of support she received when her mother died suddenly a year ago.
“It was the doorbell that kept ringing and the people who kept calling that kept me going,” she said.
Fattore, the church pastor, said he’s had heartbreaking conversations with loved ones of those dead and missing. Some members of his church have friends still unaccounted for.
But he said the outpouring from volunteers has reaffirmed his faith.
“It gives hope for humanity,” he said.