FORT MYERS, Fla. — With food more a luxury than a given in this ravaged city after Hurricane Ian, a local man is feeding hundreds of his neighbors and going beyond the basic food choices often offered in the wake of a devastating storm.
Chef and musician Fritz Caraher, 44, has organized the effort that is serving pork chops, chicken, vegetables and rice for anyone whose stomach may not be full.
Caraher began feeding hundreds of residents from a distribution center almost immediately after the storm, but the number quickly swelled to about 1,000, and it continues to rise.
“I’ve been doing charity events in town for 20 years,” he said. “We want to take care of the community that takes care of us.”
Many people in the city are still without power and electricity four days after the hurricane caused widespread damage, making it difficult to cook hot meals.
People are distraught and having a hard time because of Mother Nature but there’s nothing anyone can do, said Calbert Sterling, 49, who plans to start throwing food out of his home tomorrow.
Food remained limited throughout town Sunday as rebuilding efforts moved forward.
Most restaurants remained closed, except for a few food trucks, in addition to a couple of diners with few food options.
“Finding food is the hardest part right now,” said Tony Tobler, 35, who didn’t stock up on groceries before the storm because he feared his food would rot without power to keep it cold. “Food is scarce.”
Caraher, who has been a one-man organizer, asked friends to volunteer and sought the assistance of an out-of-town cook who has helped prepare food, he said.
Donations have come from far and wide, such as nearby restaurants whose refrigerated food would have soon spoiled.
Some food has been shipped in, and some people who have come to eat have also donated money, but much more is needed.
So far, only breakfast and dinner are being offered; Caraher would prefer to serve food all day if possible.
“We’re cooking things up,” he said, referring to Sunday night’s menu of chicken, coffee, rice and vegetables.
Caraher’s generosity doesn’t stop with food, either. Those sharing meals can leave with free diapers, baby formula, towels, shoes, water and dog and cat food that might better assist with life at home as residents to try get back to a sense of normalcy.
But the main goal is to offer something different to eat that Floridians wouldn’t usually have during these times.
“We have grills being put up, and we’re getting gas propane fryers for fried food meals so people won’t have to eat cold salami sandwiches,” he said.
By Sunday evening, more than 100 cars had lined up for meals inside the Miners Plaza shopping center off of McGregor Boulevard.
“We need the food. Our fridge is out,” said Mark Abramson, 58, who brought a truckload of people to partake with him.
Most of his neighbors are strapped for cash and need something to eat, he added.
One person who came to get food said Caraher's efforts were much needed, and much appreciated.
"Some people are in dire straits. Most of my friends, basically everyone I know, lost everything in their home and can’t get food,” said Keri Hendry, 51, noting that most people don’t have Internet access, no cell phone service or power. “Something like this is a Godsend and I’m extremely grateful.”