White River Jct. Catering Group Helps Feed Sandy Responders

As he stood in the midst of Staten Island’s Great Kills Park and spoke on his cell phone yesterday, Brandon Fox occasionally raised his voice to make himself heard over a thumping noise in the background.

“You’ll hear (helicopters) overhead all day right where we are,” said the 34-year old White River Junction resident. “Sixty or 70 of them, probably.”

The Upper Valley mostly absorbed a glancing blow from the outer edges of Hurricane Sandy last week. Short-term power outages and a few days of rain were about the worst it endured by residents. Fox, however, led six of his Maple Street Catering employees into the heart of the storm’s aftermath. They work for Base Logistics, a Louisiana emergency-response logistics company contracted by the U.S. government that coordinates lodging and meals for people responding to disasters.

Leaving last Friday and filling their box truck and several vans with gas multiple times en route, the group was originally headed for Long Island, but was diverted to Great Kills Park in Staten Island. There, on vast recreational fields that border the Atlantic Ocean, a small army of utility laborers has assembled, heading out to work on sites in shifts and returning to the park to sleep, eat and shower.

Perth Amboy, N.J., is down the shore to the southwest and the Verrazano-Narrows toll bridge is up the coast to the northeast. Across the water, Fox can see Coney Island and Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. Not that he has much time for gazing around.

“We serve anywhere from 100 people to 500 people per meal,” said the 1996 Woodstock High graduate. “We’re the only caterer on site and everybody is working so hard.”

Fox’s crew arises at about 3 a.m. each day to have breakfast ready two hours later. Food and power is provided and the plates, cups and cutlery are disposable, but the preparation, serving, clean-up and equipment maintenance take plenty of time. Most nights, lights-out isn’t until 11 p.m for the Maple Street group.

“It’s definitely hard work and it’s decent money, but it’s also awesome to help out and that’s a great feeling,” Fox said. “I talked to a (fellow caterer) down here and at a different site, his crew is serving 1,200 people for lunch and dinner.”

Fox said Base Logistics is running five other sites in addition to the Great Kills Park operation. One is in Queens, at Shea Stadium,

home of Major League Baseball’s New York Mets, and another is at the Playland amusement park in Rye, N.Y., north of New York City in Westchester County.

“We get food shipments every three days and our chefs have to be creative,” said Fox, who said those he serves come from locations as far flung as Mississippi, Florida and Ohio. “We’re making hot apple crisp tomorrow, because it’s about 30 degrees here.”

Fox earned culinary degrees from Johnson and Wales University in Providence, R.I., and the New England Culinary Institute in Montpelier, Vt. He worked at country clubs in Florida and New Jersey before returning to the Upper Valley in 2006.

Married with two children, Fox joined Maple Street and the Big Fatty’s BBQ restaurants, founded by his mother and stepfather. The latter has two locations, one in Hartford and one in Burlington, Vt.

Fox said his mother and stepfather signed Maple Street up as a Base Logistics subcontractor six years ago. For the first four years, however, they were only put on alert, and not mobilized.

The past two years, however, ice storms in Massachusetts and Connecticut have resulted in two trips, one last year to the Constitution State requiring Fox and his crew to toil on site for two weeks.

“They saw that we worked hard and that we could put some flair into the food,” Fox said. “But by the end, exhaustion was a problem for us.”

The Maple Street gang could face more tiring times ahead. With another storm predicted to come up the East Coast later this week, the Great Kills Park site may have to be cleared, then reassembled, Fox said.

His guess is that the earliest he and his coworkers will return home is Sunday, but it could be longer.

“We’re in limbo as far as what’s going to go on the next few days,” he said. “But whatever happens, we’re a family and we’re blessed to be here.”

Tris Wykes can be reached at twykes@vnews.com or 603-727-3227.