Food trucks are of little use in Minnesota in winter.
But this year, just as summer started to wane, a powerful storm raged 1,800 miles away. Days after Hurricane Irma made landfall on Florida’s Gulf Coast, Doug Meyer drove his family’s food truck to Everglades City to feed anyone who needed a hot meal.
More than three months later, Meyer and his Finer Meats & Eats truck are still there.
He started out with 1,000 meals to give away and quickly burned through them. Since then, Meyer has been taking donations, sourcing food through local pantries, and running up a charge on his own credit card to keep feeding the neediest.
“I’m going to stay till everybody’s taken care of,” he said. “We’re just not going to give up.”
Everglades City was among Florida’s hardest-hit spots; Irma brought floods that lifted homes off their foundations, and winds that tore up entire trailer parks. Although conditions have improved, many people lost all of their possessions. Others are still unable to return to their dampened dwellings.
“They might have the money and means to take care of themselves, but if they spend it on food, they might not be able to spend it on fixing their house,” said resident Sue Goff. A regular at Meyer’s food truck, her house remains unlivable.
Judy Barton, another of Meyer’s regulars, has her house, but little in it. “The stove, the refrigerator is not working,” she said.
Meyer is serving his customers everything from tacos to goulash. He and a cook, David Wade, even introduced South Florida to Minnesota hot dish.
Finer Meat Co., a Nicollet Avenue butcher shop, acquired a food truck about three years ago, and mainly used it to cater private and corporate events.
Meyer, a former truck driver for FEMA and other disaster relief organizations, got the idea to use the truck to help as soon as the storm hit.
“He’s the type of person who’d give you his shirt off his back,” said Brian Knopik, one of the store’s owners, who considers Meyer like a brother. “He just came up with a plan and went for it.”
Meyer contacted a church in Naples, Fla., and asked where help was needed most. They pointed him to Everglades City.
Meyer spent his first month parked on the city’s basketball courts. He later moved to a spot outside a Masonic lodge and has remained there. He sleeps in an RV and stores his supplies in tents he’s set up, including donated holiday gifts he has collected for Everglades City’s schoolkids.
While he’d like to stay in Florida as long as he can, the truck is needed back in Minnesota for some high-profile winter events, namely Crashed Ice and the Super Bowl.
Meyer said it will be hard to leave his customers, many of whom have become friends.
“It’s been a real humbling journey,” he said.