Felicia Salazar and Gabe Zaldivar didn’t expect to open their cafe along the Patapsco River until later this summer.
Then the historic flooding in Ellicott City and southwestern Baltimore County on Sunday, May 27, changed their plans.
Salazar and Zaldivar, who are married, live in the Dunloggin neighborhood of Ellicott City. As the floodwaters rose Sunday night, Salazar wasn’t sure their shop, which is still under construction at 4 Frederick Road, would survive.
“Getting there in the morning [after the flood], I was so relieved,” Salazar said. Not only was there little need for emergency response resources, but they could make their space available for people seeking respite.
They opened the doors of their business the very next day so that emergency responders, state highway workers, officials and neighbors could use the restroom.
Others set up a tent outside, providing a space to sit for a few minutes and grab a donated bottle of water or a doughnut.
“It just seemed like the only thing to do,” Salazar said. “We have a place that’s still functional.”
As officials continue coordinating emergency response, road repair and debris collection, they have made note of members of the community coming together to heal and provide for one another.
“Every situation, every crisis like this, you end up really being inspired. It’s just inspiration,” County Executive Don Mohler said Monday, the day after the flood. “You realize people are good.”
Mohler and other county officials have asked residents of the county to share their stories online of neighbors helping neighbors, using #BaltCoNeighborsCare. Residents in the affected area have shared food and helped each other drain basements and empty out debris in the week following the flooding.
Salazar said she and her husband, who acquired their cafe space only about four weeks before the storm, were in the right place at the right time.
“It’s a terrible situation, but you always see people come together in times like this,” she said. “For that reason, it makes me feel like it was the right thing to do to be here.”
Janice Lepore, of the 1600 block of Park Grove in Catonsville, said she had a few friends over Sunday evening as a way to celebrate the long weekend. When the rain started falling, she said a “lake” formed in her backyard.
“We got 6 inches in the basement before we formed a bucket brigade,” Lepore said. The basement has a drain but no sump pump.
The drain leads to the yard, which was already flooded, so there was nowhere for the water to go. Lepore said the flooding was exacerbated by a collapsed culvert that’s left a drain exposed in her backyard.
“There were six of us,” she said. “We worked for about an hour initially, waited to see if it would stay down or not — spoiler, it did not — and then another hour or so.”
By the end, the group had a system down and “had MacGyver-ed a siphon out of our garden hose,” she said, referencing the CBS show in which the hero relies on unconventional problem-solving. “We were really lucky.”
Lepore said she would have suffered much more damage without the bailout effort of her friends.
Baltimore County officials say around 400 basements have been pumped out by crews from the fire department or the Department of Public Works.
‘Come in and let me feed you’
Rooster + Hen, an “organic general store” at 2302 Frederick Road, hosted a small group of local business owners who were looking for a way to help out in the aftermath of the storm.
Allison Smith, who owns the business with her husband, Joe McRedmond, said she wanted to open her space to anyone who needed some place to “chill out.”
“You come here if your nerves are frayed. You come here if you’ve been helping out a neighbor whose basement flooded,” Smith said. “Every person in this community has been affected. Come in and let me feed you.”
Misteka Foods, Table for Twelve, and Kupcakes & Co. all brought food and snacks to the store for anybody who walked in looking for some sustenance or a place to relax. They also brought food to St. Peter’s Episcopal Church for relief in Ellicott City.
“I can't work on your car, I can't like, rebuild your house, but I can feed you, I can host you, I can give you a hug,” Smith said.
For Smith and McRedmond, hosting people at their shop was about serving the community; the two live on Oella Avenue but were largely unaffected by the flooding.
“We know a lot of people who have lost everything, Smith said. “We wanted to feed our friends.”
For Iman Moussa, of Misteka Foods, offering free meals was personal, even though her home in Howard County was untouched by the flooding.
Moussa moved to the United States with her family in 2011 from Egypt, where she owned a gift shop. She said she struggled to fit in when she first moved here and is happy to be able to help others who may feel displaced.
Helping and giving back to others has become a core part of her business — and a core part of her life. Moussa said her company donates a meal for every three that it sells. She partners with Give One for Good Food, a Baltimore-based network that works to create a more “equitable” food system, according to its website.
“It just makes me feel, for me, that I fit,” she said.
She’s not cooking alone: three women — two refugees from Syria and one from Iraq — work in the kitchen with Moussa.
They prepared Misteka’s signature dish, called “koshary,” a vegan, gluten-free meal which Moussa described as “packed” with fiber. It’s a bowl of rice with gluten-free pasta, lentils and chickpeas, topped with a tomato sauce and fried onions.
“Our part of the world, if you visit anyone in their home, the amount of generosity you're going to get … this is how we greet people,” Moussa said. “This is how we show love and affection. This is what I wanted to incorporate in my life.”