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Food trucks lure Sandy relief effort to downtown Towson

Chamber, mobile food vendors team up to gather cash, donations

By Bob Allen

9:16 AM EST, November 14, 2012

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For a few hours on Nov. 10 at the County Courthouse in Towson, it seemed like summer returned for a visit, as residents turned out to enjoy mild temperatures and, at the same time, support a worthy cause.

Sunshine and live music blended with autumn leaves as children played in the plaza area and several hundred people lined up at a dozen or so food trucks parked along Washington Avenue.

The Towson Chamber of Commerce and the Maryland Mobile Food Vending Association, co-hosts of the Food Truck Rally to assist victims of Super Storm Sandy, could hardly have asked for a better day. The idea of the rally was to lure people downtown to visit the food trucks — and offer them a chance to also bring along food, clothes and other items to assist the area devastated by Sandy.

Just around the corner from the food trucks, a group of local Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and Cub Scouts, along with their troop and den masters, were busy loading donated items into a large panel truck that was destined for New Jersey.

Twins Alexis and Alecia Gretz, 13, were representing Girl Scout Troop 849. They said people were dropping off bottled water, nonperishable food items, clothing, winter coats, first aid supplies, sheets, blankets, pillows and toys, among other things.

"I like the feeling that I'm helping somebody, without even knowing who they are, but just helping them," Alecia said.

The success of the festive Saturday relief effort was impressive considering how quickly it was pulled together.

Damian Bohager of the Maryland Mobile Food Vending Association came up with the idea just a week beforehand after talking to a friend who'd made trips to New Jersey to help family members hit by the storm.

When Bohager's friend described the extent of devastation in New Jersey, Bohager began rallying members of his association.

"We're all excited about doing this one," Bohager said last week. "(The trucks) all came back and said, 'Count us in.' "

He also reached out to Nancy Hafford, executive director Towson Chamber of Commerce, who pulled her organization into the relief effort.

A dozen or so Towson restaurants, hotels and retail businesses also supported the drive with donations. Hafford said the Towson University Marriott was donating pillows and bed linens, all of which will be shipped to firehouses accepting donations in the affected areas and distributed to those in need.

"It's a day I'll never forget for the rest of my life," Hafford said. "People were just so generous. As soon as word got out about the drive on Thursday I started getting calls and people began dropping things off at my office, until it was filled up with boxes to as high as my head.

"It was overwhelming," she said. "People were just so generous. They didn't even know these people (in New Jersey). They just wanted to give."

H&S Bakery provided a tractor trailer. "By 4 p.m. it was completely full," she said. "They ended up having to take two extra trucks of supplies to New Jersey."

"Normally, it takes weeks and weeks to get permission to hold something like this on county property," Hafford said. "But the people at the county really understood the need and urgency of the people up north."

"It was all just an amazing show of generosity. Just amazing."

While serving up their specialties, truck vendors such as Woody's Taco Island and The Jolly Pig also talked up the relief effort, and many visitors donated cash as well as items. Members of the MMFVA food trucks contributed a portion of their proceeds.

Scout troops mobilized to provide volunteer labor and earn community service hours.

"My cousin owns one of the food trucks, and she called me about getting some Scouts out here as volunteers," said Jeff Currier, Scoutmaster of Boy Scout Troop 247, in Parkville. "So I started sending out emails to other scoutmasters and parents and got the ball rolling."

The McDermott brothers of Parkville — Zachary, a 13-year-old Life Scout, and Dylan, 10 — were also among the volunteers.

"I'm getting service hours here, which I need to advance (to Eagle Scout)," Zachary said. "And it really makes me feel good to get to help the victims of Sandy."

Seamus Sallin, a 13-year-old scout in Parkville Troop 475, shared his friend's sentiments. And he seemed to be having quite a bit of fun, to boot.

"We're getting all kinds of donations, and somebody even dropped off a stuffed animal," he said with a grin. "We named him Jeffrey."

Jon Meoli contributed to this story.