Since Hurricane Sandy devastated Rockaway Beach in the New York City borough of Queens last October, Michael Diamond, known best as the Beastie Boy's Mike D, has been serving up 200 to 500 free meals a day from his Rockaway Plate Lunch truck.
Diamond told GOOD magazine that the need for food at the Rockaway peninsula was immediately apparent when he and his good friend and restauranteur Robert McKinley arrived in the area to offer their help after the storm. With no available power, all shops and restaurants were closed.
"Everything was a mess out there," Diamond told Bon Appetit. "So, we started by just contacting some restaurateurs we knew in the city and bringing out hot food, then distributing it out there through some contacts we had, and a couple of great clergy folks who were doing great work with their churches. It was super-super-grassroots, people just going to give food out, but there were still all kinds of problems. You'd think that things were finally getting organized for a minute, and then you'd go into a whole project where no one's checked anything, no one's brought meals. So we realized that it was somewhat inefficient to bring food that was hot from Manhattan or other parts of Brooklyn out there."
"We quickly saw, to get a lot of people fed and to have something warm we needed a truck," he told GOOD. "So we went to Sam Talbot, the Breslin/Spotted Pig team, and the Fat Radish people and said, 'Hey, we're going to get this food truck going, but can you guys provide us with chefs and cooking expertise to execute this?' Thankfully, people were already looking for a way that people could be of service out there and this was a super grassroots, very direct way that they could."
Since Diamond launched the project with restauranteur McKinley and Top Chef alum Talbot, more than 19,000 hearty meals of chicken, beans, rice and vegetables have been dished out to storm survivors. Local restaurants volunteer their chefs on a rotating schedule to keep the truck running.
"The best thing about this is that it lifts people's mood," Diamond told the Wall Street Journal. "At times like these, a little bit of hope, a little bit of happiness, it goes a long way."
Generous donors helped fund the almost $200,000 it takes to pay for the food and services of two full-time employees to run the truck. The Rockaway Plate Lunch truck team hopes to raise $500,000 in total.
Now five months into the project, the team hopes to transition the Rockaway Plate Lunch truck into a profitable enterprise run by locals.
"There’s still the need for warm food out there, but our real goal for this summer is to help revitalize the local economy. So we’re trying to switch the truck over from giving away food, to charging for food but having it become staffed, run and operated on every level by citizens of the Rockaways. We’ll keep the same restaurants that have been involved, but in a mentoring capacity," Diamond told GOOD.
The beach is set to reopen this summer.