Hurricane Sandy’s effects on the downtown area of Toms River were well-documented; flooded streets with water several feet high and losses of power.
But one local bakery, in the midst of dealing with its own challenges in the storm, provided what help it could to those who were in need.
The Cookie Cab, located at the corner of Washington and Hyers Streets in downtown Toms River, was facing a loss of electricity very early on into the storm — yet proprietors Helen Harris and Kim Ratto made a proactive decision to help their fellow community members by springing into action.
“When the power went down and you run a restaurant, the food is your first concern,” said Harris. “We let the doors open and let anyone come in who needed a needed a meal. We were cooking as fast as we could. For all intents and purposes, we became a soup kitchen.”
Harris explained that The Cookie Cab did not charge any of the patrons who came in, though some decided to leave donations upon their exit.
“We cooked up a lot of soup. But there were no power companies here until late; the downtown was desolate at that time. We were trying to provide a place for people to go, for people to bring their families,” said Harris.
Ratto recalled attending to the cooking while wearing a baseball cap with a flashlight attached to it.
“We had about 36 hours until the food went bad (due to the lack of power), so we cooked it and fed 100 people. We had teriyaki wings, sausage, sweet potatoes, garlic green beans, we had everything in here,” said Ratto. “We cooked and gave away what we could. I wish we could have done more.”
Once electricity was restored, The Cookie Cab was one of many local businesses who allowed customers to recharge their electronic devices on the premises and take refuge from the outside.
The proprietors said that their building suffered no structural damage, but that they lost two weeks’ worth of income and food due to Hurricane Sandy. They will recoup their losses on food supplies through insurance; however their loss of income from that time will not be made up.
Still, the proprietors feel fortunate that things did not turn out worse for The Cookie Cab, especially when recalling the situations faced by some of its patrons.
“People lost their property, stability. We had a family of four come in, who looked like they had means, but had lost their home. The kids looked stunned; the mom looked like she was holding it together. But what struck me were the father’s eyes, they looked haunted,” said Harris.
The restaurant picked up their tab, feeling that’s what should be done.
“We wouldn’t let them pay,” Ratto explained.
They were also helped in their mission by a Toms River councilman, who provided his credit card and instructed Harris and Ratto to feed who they needed to.
Both Harris and Ratto said that they were grateful for the assistance they had received from various members of the community, who responded to an e-mail blast from a customer encouraging citizens to patronize the restaurant and support them during this tough time.
“We went from empty to full in 20 minutes,” said Ratto. “We’re also advertising as much as we can.”
The owners said that the storm has brought out both the best and the worst in the area. In regards to the best, both pointed out the generosity shown by citizens towards their neighbors in the aftermath of the storm — while on the other side of the coin, the restaurateurs recalled a plywood sign they had seen displayed near Fischer Boulevard which read, “You Loot, We Shoot.”
For The Cookie Cab, who has spent three years in the downtown area, its proprietors stated that the road to recovery will be a “long-term” one.
“We don’t know if businesses will be able to make it unless people use local resources, rebuild from the inside out. When the central focus moves away from this, the (community's) needs will still be there. We’d like to do more,” said Harris.