By Andra Bryan Stefanoni
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Two women stood out from the crowd Tuesday at the AmeriCorps Volunteer Reception Center in Joplin.
They wore white chef’s hats and white aprons.
In the shade of a tent in a makeshift kitchen, Joan Cheever and Pam Parish spent the morning cheerfully slicing summer-fresh cantaloupe, bright-red tomatoes and dark-purple eggplant. By contrast, the AmeriCorps volunteers who circulated in the area were work-weary and covered in dirt accumulated from shoveling debris.
“They’re just what we needed,” said Kelsey Wood of the National Civilian Community Corps out of Denver, Colo. “They got here last night — drove 14 hours to get here — and will be here until Friday. Boy are we thankful.”
Cheever and Parish brought the Chow Train mobile food truck from San Antonio, Texas, to support the efforts of AmeriCorps as volunteers provide relief to tornado-ravaged Joplin.
While their home base in Joplin is at the Volunteer Reception Center at Missouri Southern State University, they were out in neighborhoods Tuesday, taking lunch to those who couldn’t take time away from relief efforts.
It was Cheever’s second trip to Joplin with her Chow Train.
“I came five days after the tornado and set up shop, and AmeriCorps has been calling for me to come back ever since,” she said.
Tuesday’s menu made Wood and the others who gathered with her salivate: A restaurant-style menu board promised “Texas chalupas, garden salad, fresh fruit.”
“That’s great fare for a relief center,” Wood said with a laugh. “We’re used to anything we can get, and that’s usually hot dogs and chips.”
Cheever’s Chow Train, which she owns and funds herself, began last month, feeding the homeless on the streets of San Antonio.
“It’s one of my passions,” she said. “I can’t stand to see people hungry.”
A former newspaper journalist and author, Cheever now travels neighborhoods on Tuesdays and Thursdays to feed those who need it, and on Sundays she provides lunch to 200.
“My emphasis there is like it is here, though. It’s healthy,” she said. “I rely on farmers markets and insist that people eat their vegetables. If you’re going to have energy, that’s what you need.”