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Eateries Pitch In To Feed Firefighters

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Donations help diner and Elks keep food on the table for emergency workers

By Rob Lamb

The chance to take a break and refuel is necessary for everyone but it could not be more essential for the brave men and women fighting the Las Conchas Fire. Quick to address this need several groups of Los Alamos citizens sprang into action seeking donations and volunteering their labor to get meals to all those emergency responders.

Local restaurants and Elks Lodge #2083 have opened the doors of their buildings and their refrigerators to make sure that all get fed.

Eppie Trujillo and Mark Smith helped organize the effort put forth by the Elks. “Our goal is to put a smile on their faces and make sure that everyone is well fed. The  Elks’ motto is we care, we share,” Trujillo said.

All of the food that is prepared by the Elks has been donated. Los Alamos National Laboratory Foundation quickly swooped in with a $10,000 donation to buy the food that the Elks Lodge didn't have on hand. Locally, both Smiths Food and Drug and Los Alamos Cooperative Market donated perishable food that would have otherwise rotted on the shelves during the evacuation. Many local restaurants also chipped in donating their food supplies as well as their cooking expertise. Restaurants that donated their food and time include Blue Window, De Colores, O Eating House and Java Hot Rocks Café. The Albuquerque American Legion has been sending two trucks filled with food each day. Surrounding communities have given everything from gallons of homemade pasta sauce to freshly baked pastries made by concerned individuals.

Wednesday night the Elks learned a hungry crew of over 90 firefighters had just landed at the airport. The obvious thing to do was fire up the grill, throw on a hundred of the rib eye steaks donated by Wal-Mart and invite them over.

‘It’s our goal to feed anyone who is hungry no matter what shift they are working. So the operation runs 24/7,” Trujillo said

McDonald’s joined in on making sure that everyone’s appetites were satisfied. Wednesday, owner Andres Zamora was busy taking phone orders and setting up logistics of getting a fresh supply of food up the hill.

He commented on how hard everyone was working and thanked everyone who came in.

Over at the Hill Diner owner Denise Lane scurried about with a phone glued to one ear and a grocery list in the other. Sunday night while helping a friend pack to evacuate she had decided to keep the diner “open.”

“I just made the decision that I was going to serve people food. It’s something I can do to help out and I regretted not doing it during the Cerro Grande Fire.” Lane said.

As her staff evacuated she placed a call for help Monday night and many quickly came to her aid. Friends, real estate colleagues and volunteers made up the new Hill Diner crew.

Lane’s new server staff had to quickly learn their new trade as they stepped out from behind desk-jobs and became immersed in the world of food service.

Lane recalled the steep learning curve as the diner’s role changed from sit-down family dining to a mess hall. “The whole thing just kept evolving.” Lane said of the now smooth rolling assembly line of food preparation. The kitchen has now spilled out into dining room where meals are packaged up and sent out into the field to feed the famished workers.

After the initial chaos, the volunteers began to find their own special niche. Jennifer Elson joked, “I have control issues,” referring to a Styrofoam box that maps out each menu item’s place. On the other hand, Lane praised her organizational skills as the volunteer coordinator. John Hogan’s experience fire fighting put him in an unique position to advise on the worker’s dietary needs. He makes suggestions about foods that are appropriate for firefighters in the field. A piece of watermelon with the rind still on can act as a handle while eating with ash covered hands or an orange that is easily stashed in one’s pocket.

The priority became making sure that everyone gets at least one hot meal each day. Lane’s makeshift crew readies as many as 1,200 meals and distributes them to those working about Los Alamos.

Lane’s generous spirit has not gone unnoticed by other businesses.  Del Norte Credit made a donation $2,500 and sends up a food truck each day. Kent Pegg, of Los Alamos Fitness Center made a donation of 1,000 protein bars that get distributed to the front line firefighters in their lunches. Los Alamos National Bank gave the Diner a check for $5,000 which Lane asked Steve Wells to deposit immediately in her account that now has a very large negative balance. “The bank has been great and they have covered all of the checks I have written,” Lane said. While the financial outlay is somewhat worrisome, she knows she can’t think about that right now.

“It’s just working itself out.” Lane said after learning of the plight of the local farmers that wouldn’t be able to sell their produce at Los Alamos’ farmers market. A symbiosis was created out of the disaster. The Diner made arrangements to purchase all of the food that would have been at Thursday’s market.

Both owners and volunteers feel this is a great way to show how much the efforts of all of those helping protect our town means to them. Thursday at the Hill Diner a server loudly announced, “ Chief Tucker is here” which was immediately met with thunderous applause. Lane feels that the restaurant has become a refuge for all during this anxiety filled time.

NBC newswoman, Janet Shamlian spent four days coming to the Diner for meals. Lane spoke about how at first the veteran anchor seemed a bit distant but by the fourth day came up and gave her a big hug saying that she couldn’t believe the hospitality and hated to leave.

“It’s just what we do here in Los Alamos.” Lane said with a smile.