Members of the Hope Mennonite Church of Pantego serve lunch for islanders on Tuesdays in the Ocracoke Community Center. Photo: C. Leinbach

By Connie Leinbach

Almost two months after Hurricane Dorian inundated the island, a lot of Ocracoke islanders still rely on the free meals provided by many friends at the Ocracoke Strong kitchen in the Community Center.

In addition to those provided by the Salvation Army and the Baptists on Mission, cooked meals began spontaneously a few days after Dorian toasted the island on Sept. 6.

In those initial days, Jason Wells rallied some local helpers, Eduardo Chavez, Charles O’Neal and Chrissy Waller, to grill some chicken left by Fat Fellas of Newport, or food donated by U.S. Foods.

After the Salvation Army and Baptists on Mission left on Oct. 13, Wells continued the free lunches in the Community Center.

Co-owner of Jason’s Restaurant, Wells has received donations of all kinds to help feed Ocracoke: $1,000 from the Variety Store plus unlimited credit, donations from U.S. Foods, from whom he purchases food for his own restaurant now under repair, and donations at the door and through the mail.

A few off-island groups are and have been on the schedule to provide meals.

Tuesdays is the Hope Mennonite Church, Pantego.

Wednesdays are the “Ocracoke Latino Ladies.”

“That’s what I call them,” Wells said. “They tell me what they want to do and I order it.”

The Carolina Boys, who are the caterers each May for the Ocracoke Invitational Surf Fishing Tournament, provided lunch and dinner to Ocracoke on Saturday, Oct. 26. Photo: C. Leinbach

Fridays are Chrislyn and Little Washington community, who send over prepared meals.

Jason and his core group fill in on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

Although outside groups who want to come in any of those days are welcome to do so, Wells would especially love outside groups to help on Saturdays since that’s the day he coaches middle school girls’ and boys’ basketball.

Any groups wishing to help are asked to contact Alicia Peel, Wells’ organizer, at

Peel posts the week’s menu on the Ocracoke Disaster Relief Facebook page.

“Thank you so much to everyone,” she said. “We are constantly in awe of the love and support we receive.”

Wells stresses that the free meals cannot accommodate the off-island workers and are basically for island residents. The kitchen prepares food for 400 to 500 people because this midday meal is also for the Ocracoke School middle and high school students, who are fed at 11:15.

The rest of the community arrives at 11:30 to 1 p.m.

While his core group of helpers are Celeste Brooks, Sandy O’Neal, Ronnie Ciccone, Cidra DeLau and Chad Macek, Wells said he’s looking for volunteers to help from 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.  Anyone who wants to help should talk to Wells or Brooks.

Jason Wells, right, talks with Amy Howard outside the Ocracoke Strong Kitchen at the Community Center. Photo: C. Leinbach

Wells wants to continue the food service even after the island is open for tourists because so many islanders are without incomes.

Wells gets satisfaction helping with the disaster recovery this way.

“I suck at carpentry,” he said. “I can’t help people with that, but this is something I can do. It makes people happy, which makes me happy.”

The following is the schedule for the rest of this week.

Thursday, Oct. 31: Ocracoke Strong Kitchen: Menu TBA

Friday, Nov. 1: Chrislyn and the Little Washington community with Ocracoke Strong Kitchen: Beefy Baked Ziti, Broccoli Salad, and Italian Bread

Saturday, Nov. 2: 10 a.m. Brunch by Ocracoke Strong Kitchen: Pancakes, Bacon, Breakfast Casserole, and Orange Juice

There is currently no food service scheduled Sunday. 

For weekly updates, visit the Ocracoke Disaster Relief Facebook page.

Georgeann Smith greets islanders at the Tiny Tornado food truck, who served lunch on Oct. 19. Photo: C. Leinbach
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