Even though the attention of the nation is currently focused the havoc Hurricane Sandy wrought on the East Coast, towns that suffered from past disasters are still coping with the arduous task of recovery.
One such place is Joplin, Mo., slammed on May 22, 2011, by an F5 tornado that killed roughly 160 people, injured around 1,000 and destroyed about 25 percent of the town.
One of the people who visited Joplin shortly after the storm was chef Robert Irvine of Food Network’s “Restaurant Impossible.” He joined Red Cross volunteers to bring supplies to the residents. Irvine promised he’d return, and in late August, he made good on that pledge.
Airing Sunday, Dec. 9, on Food Network, the special episode “Holiday Impossible” recounts how Irvine and fellow chef Michael Chiarello pitched in to renovate the kitchen of the Boys and Girls Club of Southwest Missouri and then feed the volunteers doing the work.
While Irvine normally has two days and $10,000 to renovate an eatery, this time he had an extra day and three times the budget.
“It’s a very emotional thing for me,” Irvine tells Zap2it, “but it’s also a very emotional show. I don’t think there’ll be many people who will have a dry eye after that.”
Chiarello got a surprise at the speed and sheer volume of food – starting with the shopping.
“Michael made homemade meatballs,” Irvine says. “He came in, and we did the supermarket sweep. He was blown away that we got this much done in a short amount of time, and he had a lot of fun. He worked very hard.”
As for what was served to the volunteers and to the kids who use the club, Irvine says, “We had four buffets. You name it, we did it. Whatever I could spend in that supermarket, I spent. We made everything, a lot of desserts, obviously. Kids are nuts for sweets.
“We did mac and cheese. We did chicken fingers from scratch, from full chickens. When you see the amount of chicken that we had … because it was the cheapest way of buying it, as whole chickens, and there we are, breaking it down.
“We made the meatballs, the chicken, pizza … just a lot of good stuff.”
But the memories aren’t far away.
“When I was there, filming this special,” Irvine says, “the tornado warnings went off. You should have seen the fear in the kids’ faces. It’s amazing. Just as we’re about to feed a thousand people, you look and see … very emotional.”
Irvine also revisited the cross of St. Mary’s Catholic Church, the only thing standing from the original building. Ironically, in the Sandy devastation in the Breezy Point neighborhood of Queens, N.Y., all that stood in a field of rubble was a statue of the Virgin Mary.
“The cross became the meeting place,” Irvine says, “the preaching place, for the giving of thanks, and just a great beacon of hope. … It makes you think, when you see this.”