How Chefs And Restaurants Are Helping Vermont Communities Hit By Floods

It all started on Monday, when 6 inches (two months' worth) of rain fell in just two days, causing Vermont's Black River to rise beyond its banks and flood into nearby residential communities. People were rescued by boats and kayaks as water submerged thousands of homes and businesses, covered roadways, buckled concrete, and sent cars floating. According to Governor Phil Scott, water levels are higher than when Tropical Storm Irene devastated Montpelier in 2011. Now, as waist-high flood waters begin to recede, residents are left to cope with the damage, and local chefs and restaurants are stepping onto the front lines.

On Tuesday, restaurant-arcade Gamebird served up a massive spread of free fried chicken sandwiches, drumsticks, spring rolls, and coolers full of soda and water, reports local news outlet VTDigger. While floodwater threatened to destroy the business within a quarter of an inch, it remained intact and the power stayed on. Nearby Vermont brewery Outer Limits wasn't so lucky, sustaining major flood damage. But, the Outer Limits staff simply showed up at Gamebird the next day to help assemble take-home pizza kits — and that's only the beginning of the community support.

The Domino's Pizza franchise in Springfield donated 20 pizzas and two cases of water to volunteers at the Ludlow Police Department and a local church, which have both become emergency shelters. In just a few days, El Gato Cantina food truck has served over 300 free meals in collaboration with José Andrés' World Central Kitchen.

Communities of cooks come together

These grassroots relief efforts are a poignant testament to the strength and resilience of the human spirit — a spirit that is particularly fortuitous in industry professionals. As Gamebird Chef Wes Nicoll told VTDigger, "In times like this, I think most cooks I know, most restaurant folks I know, the instinct is to wipe up the dust and start cooking. This is our way of showing support." Indeed, when the COVID-19 pandemic first hit in 2020 and rocked the restaurant scene, Chef Gabrielle Hamilton (former chef-owner of East Village mainstay Prune) wrote for The New York Times, "Hastily, fellow chefs and restaurant owners were forming groups, circulating petitions, quickly knitting coalitions for restaurant workers and suppliers and farmers. ... Some were turning their restaurants into meal kitchens to feed hospital workers." Where disaster strikes, people need to eat, and the folks who prepare that food are a famously tough bunch.

More rainfall is expected to hit Vermont in the next few days. Local home cooks are under a boil water notice as the flooding threatens to contaminate the drinking water supply. Due to the severe crop damage, Governor Scott has requested an official disaster designation from the USDA so aid can be sent. President Biden already approved federal support per the major disaster declaration, so some help is on the way. It isn't over yet — but Vermonters aren't done yet, either.