For the Americans still displaced by this summer’s string of devastating hurricanes, Thanksgiving can be both a reminder of things lost and of a community gained.
It’s been months since hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria roared through the Atlantic and devastated parts of Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and other areas of the Caribbean, but tens of thousands of those affected have still not been able to return to their homes. So volunteers, chefs, business owners and good Samaritans are ensuring they still have a place to celebrate the holiday.
Houston’s Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale, the Gallery Furniture owner who opened up his Houston-area stores to those displaced by Harvey, hosted a free Thanksgiving meal on Thursday funded entirely out of his own pocket.
His guests include some of the more than 47,000 Harvey victims who are still living in hotels paid for by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but McIngvale said Wednesday on “Good Morning America” that he’s invited more than 6,000 foster kids and that the “only requirement to come in is you’ve got to have a good appetite.”
The hometown hero expects around 15,000 to 20,000 guests and has prepared nearly 100,000 pounds of food with a crew of volunteers.
Serving up another massive Thanksgiving meal was celebrity chef José Andrés, whose charitable organization World Central Kitchen has served more than 2.3 million meals in Puerto Rico since the U.S. territory was battered by Maria in September.
Andrés said he and volunteers are serving around 40,000 meals on Thanksgiving to anyone in need on the island, where around half its 3.5 million residents are still without electricity and more than 1,300 people are still living in shelters.
“You want to make gravy? Come to Puerto Rico!” Andrés said in a video asking for volunteers on Thursday.
Overall, the Michelin-starred chef’s organization has provided more freshly cooked meals to the island since the storm hit than any other single agency, including the Red Cross and the Salvation Army, The New York Times reported.
Others celebrated their first Thanksgiving in a new home with a little help from their neighbors. In Florida, Miami-Dade Schools Police Chief Ian Moffett delivered a Thanksgiving meal to a single dad who had relocated to Miami with his children after Hurricane Irma destroyed his home in Puerto Rico.
Houston Chronicle reporter Mike Hixenbaugh tweeted an early Thanksgiving photo over the weekend, showing his family sharing a meal with a couple who had moved into their guest suite after losing their home in Hurricane Harvey.
“I suspect many, many people share similar stories,” he said of celebrating the holiday with those with those displaced by the storm.
“I wish their house hadn’t flooded, but I’m thankful Harvey brought them into our lives,” he added.
A Houston-area hotel also planned a Thanksgiving feast for the 18 Harvey-affected families who are still living there.
“Even though we’ve grown to be a town of more than 100,000 people, I still know a lot of people here, and this town has supported me,” Manhar Das, the general manager of the Best Western Inn in Pearland, told the Dallas Morning News. “And if I can support the people, I’m just doing my part.”
At one point, more than 40 families affected by Harvey were living in Das’ hotel.
“They’re my hotel family,” SanJuanita Garza, who’s been sheltering at the hotel with four family members, told the outlet. “I’m going to keep them forever.”