Hippie Kitchens Serve Final Meal to Hurricane Victims

With years of experience serving throngs at festivals, many do-gooder hippies converged on Mississippi's Gulf Coast after the hurricanes to cook for the needy. They've been dishing up warm food to grateful workers and residents but will serve their last meal tonight.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

In Hancock County, Mississippi, as in other coastal areas hit by Hurricane Katrina, many are in dire need. And that has brought together people who couldn't be farther apart when it comes to culture and politics. NPR's Kathleen Schalch visited the town of Waveland and brought back this report.

KATHLEEN SCHALCH reporting:

The New Waveland Cafe sits in the parking lot of what used to be a strip mall off Highway 190. Tents cluster there almost like the circus has come to town. Relief workers have come from all over, but the ones who run the New Waveland Cafe are a little different.

Mr. GERALD CROTWELL(ph): Hippies. They're hippies.

Ms. SALLY SMITH(ph): Yeah, ain't it neat? They're so cute.

SCHALCH: Gerald Crotwell of Bay Saint Louis and Sally Smith of Waveland aren't used to seeing them up close.

Ms. SMITH: My kids'll be looking and everything and I'll just, like, `Well, baby, that's just the way that they do. They're from California over there, and they're out here helping the public.' They'll say, `Yes, ma'am.'

SCHALCH: The hippies have been helping the public by providing breakfast, lunch and dinner every day since about a week after the storm. A man who calls himself Flower emerges from a tent shaped like a geodesic dome. He's wearing a shiny silver shirt and has sand-colored dreadlocks. At first, he says, local officials were skeptical about their lack of permits and so on. But they relented.

FLOWER: Well, we're not selling food; we're sharing our food with people, and that's a whole different thing. Anybody can sit down and have a picnic, and that's all we're doing. We're sharing our food with the public.

SCHALCH: And they're good at it. Beneath a tarp, a cluster of kids in scarves and crocheted caps chop vegetables. A mountain of onions grows at one end of the table. At the other, a woman from Seattle named Kiki Schirard(ph) assembles a gargantuan salad.

Ms. KIKI SCHIRARD: ...(Unintelligible).

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SCHIRARD: Every ...(unintelligible).

SCHALCH: Ten to 5. When do the people show up?

Ms. SCHIRARD: 5:30.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SCHALCH: Aaron Funk, who's from California, says he and the others knew they could do this because they'd done it all before, at annual gatherings called Rainbow festivals, where thousands spend days at a time deep in national forests celebrating and praying for peace.

Mr. AARON FUNK: We feed 20 to 30,000 people at these festivals in remote locations, run our own water, haul our food and everything. We build kitchens out of downed wood and whatnot, so we knew that we could go to a location where there's nothing, no amenities, and make food.

SCHALCH: In fact, in some ways, Funk says, working here is a luxury. Tractor trailers of donated food can just pull into the parking lot. Soon, it's suppertime. Plump women in T-shirts and men and boys in baseball caps wait on line and sit down with platefuls of chicken, greens, black-eyed peas and yams. Monty Dominic(ph) says he's been eating all his meals here for months.

Mr. MONTY DOMINIC: My house is not livable. It's got three trees in it, and, you know, I have no vehicle. Other than that, I would be like a homeless person walking on the street, looking for my next meal in a garbage can.

SCHALCH: Clovis Siemon of Wisconsin says he's glad he can make a difference. He arrived here just days after the storm, driving a bus painted like a tiger full of organic vegetables. Some of the locals were not thrilled.

Mr. CLOVIS SIEMON: They came in and, on purpose, they're really talking a lot of extremism, politics, just kind of trying to see if they could ruffle our feathers.

SCHALCH: Siemon and the others stayed. One of the men who taunted him, a Vietnam veteran, kept coming back to eat. He finally walked over to Siemon.

Mr. SIEMON: And he told that if his medals hadn't been washed away, he would bring them all in and hand them out. He had had such a change of heart. And it's quite sad that it takes a disaster to bring people together and really have them open up to one another like that.

SCHALCH: Nowadays, they watch "Monday Night Football" together under this tent and crank up the Texas swing over the generator-powered PA system during meals.

(Soundbite of music)

SCHALCH: This will all end soon. After Thanksgiving, the New Waveland Cafe and other relief operations in the parking lot will shut down. But this place will have changed. If nothing else, the Rainbow people say, kids with dreadlocks who need to hitchhike in Hancock County will definitely get rides. Kathleen Schalch, NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

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