The New Orleans music venue that fed thousands in the pandemic served free meals to residents who have been without power since Hurricane Ida swept through the city. The Howlin’ Wolf partnered with local restaurants and markets that were unable to keep their food cold and got cooking. Volunteers and paid workers were producing thousands of meals, using food donated by different local restaurants, bound to be distributed for free across the city or dished out right there on the sidewalk.
Restaurants all over gave away fresh ingredients from their kitchens, eager to see people put them to use before they spoil. The Howlin’ Wolf rapidly emerged as a central collection point for many with the same instinct. Truckloads of food were donated to the cause and cooked on the sidewalk just outside the music club. Using wood-fired barbecue smokers and propane-fueled seafood boiling rigs, thousands of families were fed. While a majority of the city was without power in the aftermath of the hurricane, music played on a portable speaker that doubled as a phone charging station. Local families, National Guard troops, police officers, utility workers and people from elder care facilities filled the food lines.
Club owner Howie Kaplan had led a similar effort in the early phases of the coronavirus crisis to feed people in need, working with a broad network of other organizations and volunteers. Kaplan said “This is literally putting the pieces together. We are so tight-knit in this city. This was just people talking with each other, and the support started up.”
This network snapped back into action after Ida. Donations ranged from 700 pounds of shrimp, cases of chicken for the smoker, cold cuts for sandwiches, gumbo in five-gallon buckets and bushels of fresh bread. Supplies soon lined the surface of the bar and were packed into the corners of the club. On the second day after the storm, the effort produced some 2,000 meals. The following day it hit 3,000 and kept growing.
Community volunteer group Culture Aid NOLA coordinated volunteers and donations through its website. Culture Aid NOLA founder Erica Chomsky-Adelson said she put out an urgent call for some essential supplies, including propane, ice, outdoor grills and also people who can come help cook. Kaplan said “We take care of each other, I think, in a way nobody else does. Right now, it’s not about the money. It’s about making sure folks are taken care of and making sure that we can get the word out … and make sure that people recognize how important New Orleans really is.”