In yet another example of how New Yorkers have banded together in the aftermath of Tuesday's terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, a swiftly assembled coalition of Manhattan restaurants and their suppliers has begun providing regular food deliveries to rescue workers.
Organized Wednesday by restaurateurs Drew Nieporent and Danny Meyer, as well as chefs such as Bobby Flay of Mesa Grill and Daniel Boulud of Daniel, the relief effort involves dozens of cooks, kitchen prep staff and food purveyors.
"This will be an absolutely sustained effort," said Pat Barrick, senior marketing manager for City Harvest (www.cityharvest.org), a New York hunger-relief charity that is organizing the transportation of meals from participating restaurants to the delivery point, Tribeca Grill, which is within walking distance of the World Trade Center ruins.
"We'll make deliveries as long as there are hungry people down there," she said.
To provide a sense of the scale of the relief effort, Julia Erickson, City Harvest's executive director, said that the city's Office of Emergency Management has requested 2,000 to 3,000 meals three times a day.
"The restaurant community in New York has always been generous," Erickson said. "And now it's really proving it."
City Harvest has been part of the city's disaster response team since 1996, but until now has only been called upon once to participate in emergency food deliveries. That was last year, when a shipload of Ukrainian sailors was stranded in New York Harbor.
At Daniel, on Manhattan's Upper East Side, chef Boulud himself was helping to load a City Harvest truck that was on its way to Tonic, a restaurant just above the sealed-off emergency area that is serving as a collection point for all cooked food and prepared meals. From there, the food deliveries are sent by police-escorted convoy in supplier-provided refrigerated trucks to Nieporent's Tribeca Grill, where the meals are then distributed to emergency workers.
"We have big prep kitchens," said Daniel's spokeswoman, Georgette Farkas, "so we're acting as the central commissary for raw food."
According to Aaron Teitelbaum, assistant to the general manager at Daniel, the restaurant has received contributions from 40 purveyors, who have donated thousands of dollars worth of meat, vegetables and other basic items that can be used for sandwiches, salads and pasta. Numerous other restaurants around town have pitched in by sending both ingredients and cooked, pre-portioned food to Tonic.
At Tonic, located on Manhattan's West Side, just four blocks from 14th Street, below which the island has been sealed off to all but essential foot and vehicular traffic, executive chef Joseph Fortunato explained that the hastily organized relief effort is rapidly developing a routine.
"We have runs scheduled at two, four and six o'clock now," he said, "and we're going to add one overnight." Just outside his door, a Brooklyn Brewery truck loaded with meals awaited its police escort for the 6 p.m. run.
"We're keeping it simple," said Fortunato, when asked what kinds of meals he and his staff were preparing. "Just really good food for the people putting in the effort."
The coalition fed 400 people on Wednesday, according to Farkas, and by mid-afternoon on Thursday, Daniel alone had served up 240 gourmet-quality sandwiches and 30 pounds of watermelon to aid workers downtown. She added that as the chefs get the word out to other restaurants and distributors, seeking contributions, they expect to be able to feed even more people over the coming days.
The New York restaurateurs are not alone in their food-relief efforts. In New Jersey, where a triage center has been set up at Liberty State Park, directly across the Hudson River from the scene of the devastation, volunteers are helping provide food for medical staff, displaced residents of lower Manhattan and relief workers at the World Trade Center site.
In the cavernous warehouses of the Community FoodBank of New Jersey (www.njfoodbank.org) in Hillside, staff members were packaging up pallets of bottled water and snack items donated by food producers and distributors, while the members of the culinary job-training program were making sandwiches and hot dishes. In another area, volunteers sorted through acres of boxes containing items that were donated or salvaged from supermarkets, looking for individual drinks and portable food.
While initial efforts were concentrating on items that aid workers can grab and eat on the run, the New York restaurateurs felt that emergency workers would appreciate the occasional full-scale meal.
"The hot food made a huge difference," said Craig Petroff, general manager of Mesa Grill. "We sent down pasta, sliced pork tenderloin, French fries and good old American cheeseburgers."
Dave Marshall and Fred Jennings, who manned a City Harvest truck preparing to depart Daniel for Tonic, said that they had been on the job all day and were prepared to continue making deliveries for "as long as it takes."
"We're keeping with the program," Marshall said. Added Jennings: "When that will end, we don't know. But that doesn't matter. We're in this for the long haul."