As torrential rain, unsteady trees and sagging power lines came down, the line of customers snaked out the door of Boulder Creek Pizza & Pub (BCPP).
Families with young children and folks eager for a little warmth and human connection gathered at the restaurant Jan. 15-16 to enjoy discounted or free pizza thanks to a fresh new partnership between World Central Kitchen (WCK) and BCPP owner Justin Acton.
World Central Kitchen is known globally for their charitable efforts to feed the hungry, the displaced, and folks just plain down on their luck. Stories of the agency’s work have emanated from war-torn regions of Ukraine, snowmageddon in Buffalo, hurricanes in Puerto Rico and Louisiana, and other disaster areas, but WCK got its humble beginnings in Haiti.
Owner/Operator Chef José Andres first began charitable meal service after a 2010 earthquake shook the country, and Andres saw an opportunity to make a positive difference through his chosen vehicle: food. On the WCK website, Andres is quoted as saying, “World Central Kitchen started with a simple idea at home with my wife Patricia: When people are hungry, send in cooks. Not tomorrow, today.”
With the relentless rainstorms that have wreaked havoc in the Santa Cruz Mountains since December, Andres’ approach to providing warm meals to those in need was a perfect match for the wants of San Lorenzo Valley—specifically Boulder Creek, where thousands of residents found themselves trapped and isolated following the atmospheric river that took up residence over the area.
Supervisor Bruce McPherson reached out to WCK to seek assistance and was thrilled to get a positive response from the nonprofit agency.
“I’m so grateful to World Central Kitchen for their desire to help folks in the Valley after endless rain, flooding, power outages and road closures. It’s been a tough couple of weeks without much access to groceries or options for dining out. I am really pleased that two of our most popular local restaurants had the chance to partner with WKC to serve our community, especially at a time when money is tight for a lot of families,” McPherson said.
In addition to providing support to Acton’s restaurant, Jenny Wu of The Red Pearl was also contacted and invited to be ground zero for feeding those in need.
Wu’s downtown restaurant served 888 patrons during the two-day WCK partnership, but Jenny is well known in the community for her legendary generosity towards others; even after losing her own home in the CZU Fires, Wu reopened The Red Pearl immediately after evacuation orders were lifted and provided free meals to displaced residents. (The number 8 is considered lucky in Chinese culture, so Wu sees it as a sign of good things to come.)
How does a partnership with World Central Kitchen work?
Members of WCK coordinate with restaurant owners to help provide financial support so that local eateries can offer low- or no-cost meals to those suffering at the hands of a tragedy. The storms that pounded California compelled President Biden to make federal disaster assistance available to the state of California as of Jan. 14, prompting Supervisor McPherson to establish the locations for WCK personnel to assist.
Liaisons from the agency contacted Acton and Wu to set up an agreement wherein any costs for feeding those in need would be offset by WCK, and both restaurants were off to the races.
For Acton, seeing the smiles on patrons’ faces and hearing the gratitude in their conversations made it an event to remember. On Sunday, Acton says, his restaurant fed over 600 residents, and on Monday, the pizza place was hopping again, as residents from all walks of life came to get a slice.
“Everyone was so kind and appreciative,” Acton said. “Just seeing the relief on people’s faces made us feel so great about participating in this venture.”
He said BCPP staff who weren’t scheduled to work showed up to chip in, and delivery drivers from around the Valley came to help distribute pizzas to housebound locals.
Shelly Zubey and her husband, Marc Koenig, are well-versed in lending a helping hand to their Boulder Creek neighbors. They’ve created relationships with those in the area who require additional assistance, and Zubey and Koenig were ready to serve when the storm pattern hit.
As the skies above California dumped over 24 trillion gallons of water on the state over a three-week period, the pair stepped up to assist their community once again. In delivering food to wanting neighbors, Zubey said she followed the same route in downtown Boulder Creek that she had created during the height of Covid, when she would deliver produce and bread to the housebound.
“It’s my own route that I do with 20 homes. I know them all—I’ve been doing this since Covid started, and most of them don’t have phones. I went by their homes to deliver food, and most of them were so excited to get a hot pizza to enjoy. We connected with Justin to confirm my route, and we picked up the pizzas at noon and got them into everyone’s hands,” Zubey said. “It’s just been a great collaboration.”
Boulder Creekans Shannon and Bryan Warshawsky were without power for 11 days before making their way to Acton’s restaurant. Their generator did the hard work, and they made the best of their circumstances as the storm took its toll on their property.
“The only tree we had in our yard fell in the storm on Jan. 4, and took out our shed and fence, but our home and septic tank are fine. We’re extremely blessed,” Shannon said.
Ultimately, Acton says his restaurant fed nearly 1,200 people during the two-day WCK partnership.
“The best part of this was having people come in who still bought food, even though we were literally giving it away. Our staff was tipped well, and all of our customers were so kind and appreciative. That’s what makes this town so special to us all,” Acton said.
To find out more about WCK, Boulder Creek Pizza & Pub, The Red Pearl or local agencies that provide voluntary assistance to those in need, visit wck.org, bcpizzapub.com, redpearlonline.com or https://portal.clubrunner.ca/6779 (Rotary Club of San Lorenzo Valley).