By Patricia Friedman, NWWA Red Cross Volunteer
The patriarch of La Milpa Restaurant and Grocery, Ernesto Santos, was a well-respected community man who always helped others, I was told. So it came as no surprise that on the day of his funeral, his family rose before dawn to cook 100 meals for others displaced by the wildfires.
“My father would turn over in his grave if we didn’t help,” his son (also Ernesto) told Red Cross volunteer Deb Veltry, who was coordinating the food for those sheltered at the high school gym in the small town of Brewster, Washington.
The Cold Springs Wildfire had started days earlier, but with harvest season in full swing farmers were pressed to get crews back out into the orchards. When arrangements were made for earlier morning buses for the workers, Red Cross volunteers scrambled to find them a breakfast that could be ready by 6am.
As an experienced volunteer, Shelter Manager Cheryl Provorse knew how difficult it could be to get a large quantity of meals at an odd hour in a small town. “You can only do what you can do,” Cheryl explained, but after a few days of fast food, she knew it wasn’t substantial enough for the crews working hard in smoky conditions.
That was when Deb reached out to La Milpa, but then quickly dismissed the idea when she heard about the funeral. It was Ernesto who called her back offering to cook macho burritos, rice and beans for everyone.
“The workers were overwhelmed by his generosity,” Cheryl declared. “And it was all fresh!”
When Cheryl arrived to pick up the food, she was not only amazed by the assembly line in the short-order kitchen, she was touched by how uplifted they all were. “You would never have known they were going through this.” she said, “(It was) fantastic. They were really great people.”
The orchard crews seemed incredibly grateful as they waved from the buses. “It made a difference…They went to work in a good spirit,” Cheryl later said.
The Santos family and La Milpa employees did not have to step up in their time of grief, but they did. Ernesto said, “We give back to the community. That’s what we are here for. Giving back to those in the community who need it.”
We, at American Red Cross, couldn’t agree more.
Our deepest condolences and gratitude to the Ernesto Santos family.