Big-hearted chef serves up hot meals to Sandy victims

Big-hearted chef serves up hot meals to Sandy victims
Photo by Elizabeth Graham

Super storm Sandy was a recipe for disaster when it hit Brooklyn, but one Bay Ridge chef has a recipe for recovery.

Ever since Hurricane Sandy struck, Allison Robicelli — the woman behind wholesale cupcake superstar Robicelli’s Bakery in Sunset Park and the now-closed Robicelli’s Gourmet Market on Third Avenue — has been operating a relief center where she deploys prepared hot meals to hurricane-rattled residents in Southern Brooklyn, Staten Island, and the Rockaways.

Robicelli’s operation began in her apartment, but when more local chefs and culinary students joined her cause, she moved everything to the kitchen at Saint Mary’s Orthodox Church on 81st Street and Ridge Boulevard, where she and her volunteers prepare pans of food ready to be shipped out by car to Sandy’s starved and homeless victims.

“I was turning these cars into little bodegas on wheels and sending them out,” said Robicelli.

The pastry chef’s relief efforts began after a friend in Sheepshead Bay sent her a Facebook message describing the dire conditions in the shore-front neighborhood as well as the lack of basic assistance.

“When I found out these places had no cops, Federal Emergency Management Agency workers, or the Red Cross helping out, and I saw five cops at an intersection in Manhattan on the TV, I was incensed by it,” said Robicelli. “Brooklyn’s my home, and these people who were being so neglected are our brothers and sisters.”

Robicelli — who is still on the mend after being hit by a car last month — immediately sent out messages urging people to get involved through Twitter and through the Bay Ridge Parents Facebook page.

The response was overwhelming, as tweets and messages asking how to give or receive aid began pouring in from all corners of the city.

“Tons of people started tweeting at me or sending me messages over Facebook, asking ‘what can I do?’ And people from Seagate and Staten Island were calling me, asking for help,” said Robicelli. “They know that people in the areas that got hit aren’t going to have power for a long time, they aren’t going to have their homes.”

“We can’t forget about them next week, we can’t forget about them next month, we can’t forget about them in January and February,” she said.

But her efforts hit a speed bump thanks to the gas crunch: many of the dishes Robicelli’s team prepared spoiled because they couldn’t be delivered. That’s when Robicelli reached out to the Occupy Sandy relief effort — an offshoot of the Zucotti Park movement — to help her identify where the neediest people are located, and used Facebook and Twitter to coordinate drop-offs.

“Social media acted like a dispatch, like a 911 center, except that everybody’s on call all the time,” said Robicelli, who was amazed by all of the support she received.

Reach reporter Will Bredderman at (718) 260–4507 or e-mail him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/WillBredderman