I’m going to try to put into words what spending a little more than 24 hours with The Cajun Gravy was like so bear with this non-traditional post.
But before we get started, let’s back up and explain who The Cajun Gravy is and the purpose they serve. Even if you’re not from Louisiana you may have seen the Cajun Navy referenced in the rescue endeavors following the Hurricane Harvey aftermath in Texas. The Cajun Navy proved instrumental when my hometown of Baton Rouge flooded last year. They are a group of selfless volunteers with boats and a simple passion of serving their community in need. I said it last year, and I’ll say it again: everyone needs a member of the Cajun Navy on their team.
As you can gather from their name, The Cajun “Gravy” is the food related off shoot of the Cajun “Navy”. They were developed to ensure that those on the front lines responding to the devastation were well fed. No peanut butter and jelly sandwiches nor canned chicken is found on their radar. With backgrounds in catering and large scale meal preparation, this group of passionate cooks + a beer brewer from Baton Rouge, Donaldsonville and Gonzales set up shop in Orange, TX and got to cookin’ last week following Harvey’s landfall with a simple mission; provide Texas with “A Taste of the Cajun Gravy”.
1,000 meals became 1,500 and at the height of this past weekend topped 2,000 in a single day. Red Beans, Jambalaya, and Pork Loin graced their menu for the masses; twice daily. Homestyle Louisiana cooking complete with cajun music playing in the background. You could see the demeanor change when the National Guardsmen and other rescue teams walked in after a rough day in the field learning what was for dinner that night. When they wrapped up yesterday afternoon, it was estimated that they served a total somewhere in the 18,000 meal ballpark.
I learned about this group on Facebook, and as luck would have it, ran into their attorney helping with their non-profit status while purchasing t-shirts last Friday. Recognizing my equal passion for food and it’s ability to comfort, he gave me the contact of one of the founding members, and said “If you want to go, go. Call Chris. They need you”.
I spent the weekend rallying friends and neighbors to donate much needed supplies from their wish list.
By Monday, knowing that many of their volunteers would be heading home and back to work, I was packed and loaded down heading to the Expo Center they were serving. An interesting way to spend Labor Day, but I’d do it again in a heartbeat. With hotels filled with rescue workers and evacuees, I was assured I would be taken care of and provided a “room” at the Expo if I elected to stay overnight.
I later learned that they gave me the creme de la creme room- the kitchen supply closet with a borrowed cot from the National Guard!
Despite the smiles and happiness they were delivering to others for nearly a week, resources were running low and after a week on sleeping on cots and in trailers, exhaustion was setting in. Hurricane Irma was starting to rev her engine and they knew they would need a break prior to being able to respond to the devastation she may bring. For them, Hurricane Harvey was not just a one time deal, they plan on helping whomever, whenever, however they can when and if Hurricane Irma hits.
I was actually mid-transit when they called to tell me to hang onto the supplies until they got home and save myself the trip. They had enough food on hand to provide dinner that night and had made the painful decision earlier to wrap up their kindness endeavor following lunch on Tuesday. After the week they’d had, they were worried about inconveniencing me. I ignored them, and continued to drive west knowing the very least I could do was help get them through the next two meals, and lend a hand with clean up. You could see the relief on their faces when I came barreling out of my vehicle.
Me: Hey, I’m Aimee! Brittany said the soldiers were missing chocolate, so I brought tons!
Micah: Well, hey Aimee. Who are you related to here?
Me: Nobody, I liked what you were doing here and wanted to help.
Micah: Yeah, but who do you know here? Who you friends with?
Me: No one! I mean, unless you count the text messages I’ve sent to Brittany and Chris.
Micah: You mean to tell me, you just hopped in your car, knowing none of us and here you are?
Me: Yep! And I brought supplies, too. Lots of em’.
Micah: Well, damn. Let’s get you started. Come over here and meet “Mom”.
And just like that, I was thrown into the madness that is serving dinner to a huge crowd.
I arrived just in time to assist with Pork Loin & Mashed Potato night and was assigned to help with serving duty. Seemed easy enough, but serving that many people actually involved 4-5 people to be super efficient. “Mom” who is the mom of one of the volunteers scooped the potatoes, making a well in the middle, handed over to me for a ladle of gravy, handed off to Kayla for the pork, then over to Angelle for 2 pieces of bread.
As quickly as the plates are put out, the disappearing act begins.
Scoop, ladle, serve, package, repeat.
I joked that one isn’t truly accepted into The Cajun Gravy until they have the gravy stains to prove it. I have literal gravy stains on my shirt and shorts, y’all and felt like I was undergoing an initiation process. Ha!
To say that these guys are a well oiled machine would be putting it lightly. While serving time was happening, there was another crew soaking the red beans for the next day’s lunch, and yet another crew making to-go boxes of the previous night’s spaghetti for an entire neighborhood they recently heard about that flooded.
Neighborhoods, apartment complexes, the jail staff, the hospital, AND all of the first responders assigned to the Orange Expo center received meals. I’m probably even forgetting a few as well. It’s both insanity and awe-inspiring.
(shortly after the Orange County officials thanked The Cajun Gravy for feeding bellies and lifting spirits)
They aren’t the Red Cross. They aren’t some national organization with unlimited funding. They are Brett, Chris, Kyle & Micah from down the road with a few of their friends who had a vision to head to Texas and feed anyone in need of a hot home cooked meal. They are kind and generous. And the same as they would ask guests in their home “have ya had enough to eat?”, they extended the same Southern manners to the people of Orange, Texas.
As they prepare to assist those impacted by Irma, please consider supporting them either by donating, volunteering, purchasing a t-shirt (there’s pink ones!) or simply praying for their safety as they continue to comfort those with their gift of Louisiana hospitality, food, and kindness.
I’m honored to have spent time with them.