On Sunday, August 27, much of Houston was still under flood waters left in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. But only four days later, Veronica Rademacher and her volunteer crew at Vital Kitchen had already served over 6,000 hot meals to first responders, military personnel and displaced Houstonians.
Only three days after Hurricane Harvey made landfall, Rademacher created a Facebook group called “Operation Harvey Helpers” to serve as an online rendezvous point for those with the resources to cook food to connect with those in need of a hot meal.
Rademacher, formerly the executive chef at Brassiere 19, is no stranger to the Houston food scene. Along with Vital Kitchen co-owner Jordan Asher, their healthy meal prep service regularly delivers to customers or designated pick-up locations. It’s a business model she was able to apply to relief efforts, with fast results.
To avoid the floods in her own area, Rademacher took shelter with her parents in Cypress—which also happens to be where Vital’s commercial kitchen is located. Asher and Rademacher had already made the call to shut down operations for the week amid the incoming storm; while hunkering down with her parents, Rademacher was already making plans for what she could do to help in its aftermath.
Intially, the Operation Harvey Helpers group was simply a means of organizing food supplies for first responders. A couple of friends and chefs in the food community planned on setting up six to eight bases where first responders could get a meal. But within a couple of days, the Facebook group grew far beyond anything Rademacher had expected.
“Initially it was to get organized,” she says, “but the community jumped right in.”
Houston’s tight-knit network of commercial kitchens soon opened their doors for volunteers who already had access to first responders and those in need. At her Cypress kitchen, Rademacher had to transport volunteers in by truck across high waters—which proved problematic in other areas too. Originally, suppliers were lined up to make deliveries to Operation Harvey Helpers, but once the storm hit they were unable to move about the city due to persistent flooding in west Houston.
Supplies arrived eventually, and as of today, Rademacher estimates her group has sent out more than 10,000 meals, including “a lot of food to Port Aransas and Beaumont.” Rademacher claims that if it was not for those donations from Tammy Hager, the unit director at the Cypress H-E-B, and her willingness to help, relief efforts would have been seriously delayed.
Operation Harvey Helpers and its GoFundMe account, which helps raise funds to purchase more food, are still actively prepping and putting out meals. Rademacher plans on continuing these efforts for the next couple of weeks, with Vital Kitchen back up and running as well.
Vital Kitchen, she says, was an endeavor that grew out of designing of meal plans, which Rademacher found herself doing more and more frequently in her past career as a health and wellness coach. During the hurricane, though, Rademacher became as much a coordinator as a coach.
“It’s not just me, it wasn’t a one-man effort,” she says. “I’ve never seen anything like it, the city and the volunteers as a whole; none of this would’ve started without them.”