Aiding mid-storm: it’s the Buda thing to do

By Sahar Chmais 

BUDA — As the owners of Amici, an Italian food truck, were delivering free, warm meals to people in the middle of the Texas snow storm, they came to terms that they may need to sleep in their van for a few nights.

“We don’t have a 4×4,” said Elpida Sarna, co-owner of Amici. “It was a challenge getting food and goods out there with the ice. There’s no salt or plows out here, so we were pretty much driving on an ice skating rink. Several times we made turns and found streets that go uphill. [Our car would] slide back down, so we had to turn around and find a different way.”

The couple, Fabrizio and Elpida Sarna, moved to sunny Buda from a cold New York two years ago. Since the Sarnas are used to this weather, they thought to give back to the community that supported them when they had opened up their food truck at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic — a time when they thought their business could close.

But shortly after the storm hit, Elpida Sarna told her husband that she did not think this storm would pass. She was correct. Many Texans are still reaping damages long after the snow melted and the sun came through.

“I kept telling everybody ‘you’re having fun, but please check on your family and neighbors,’” Elpida Sarna recalled.

Since Valentine’s Day, the beginning of what some thought was a romantic snow, the Sarnas began giving away free meals. On Feb. 14, they had prepared 80 meals for people to pick up, but as the weather worsened , the Sarnas decided to end the give-away. They did not want people to drive out on the slick roads and possibly endanger themselves.

Then the electricity stopped. And then the pipes burst.

On Wednesday, Feb. 17, Creekside Villas Senior Village in Buda, an apartment facility for older adults, experienced a flood in the first floor along with a power outage. When its residents were relocated, they needed hot meals. Amici once again stepped in, this time with Helen’s Casa Alde.

Helen’s Casa Alde, a Tex-Mex restaurant, is used to giving. Every day first responders get 50% off their meals and veterans get 25% off. This time, their giving spirit expanded and they began giving food away to those affected by the flood in Creekside Villas. Later on, they started giving first responders, public works employees and Mayor Lee Urbanovsky free tacos for the work they did to get the city back on its feet.

“It was a necessary thing to do,” said Remy Fallon, the founder’s granddaughter of Helen’s Casa Alde. “We dropped off the plates because they didn’t even have power, it was really sad. They didn’t have power but at least there was food in their stomach. It was good to be a part of that.”

The hot meals were a necessity for many, but so was shelter. When the Central Texas VSO division in Buda saw a need for warmth, they opened up their doors for shelter and gave space heaters for those who needed them.

The sun took back its righteous place in Buda, but that does not mean people are in the clear. Many are beginning to uncover the damage that overtook their homes and businesses.

This is why Tito’s Barbecue Competition team partnered with the VSO in Buda to grill up enough food to fill thousands of plates. Nobody that came by got turned away. People are still needing these free meals because life has not returned to normal.

Volunteers serving food to city employees in the aftermath of the storm. Photo from J.R. Gonzales.

“It’s going to be a while to catch up,” said Cassaundra Melgar-C’De Baca, who runs group F7 in the VFW. “We weren’t prepared for this. It didn’t happen after a year of good times; we were already on our knees [because of the pandemic]. People’s pipes busted, some people are unemployed or underemployed.”

Even with the strife many Texans are facing, Melgar-C’De Baca said she knows residents will get back on their feet.

“I had women in Sunfield awake until 4 a.m. baking because they wanted to make sure they’re doing their part. Yesterday we had a bunch of teens whose parents brought them and they were asking if they did a good job volunteering and if they can come tomorrow. You can’t put a price on that.”

Coordinating these efforts that delivered help to the residents of Buda was in part thanks to the work of the Buda Area Chamber of Commerce (BACC). J.R. Gonzales, executive director of BACC, like many residents, was dealing with power outages and no running water, but still found a way to band together those who needed  help with those who could give it.

“I am proud to be a part of such a generous and caring community,” Gonzales told the Hays Free Press/News-Dispatch. “Once again, Buda businesses have stepped up to help others despite their own tenuous situation.”

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Sahar Chmais holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin. She has been covering cities in Hays County for one year, touching on residents' struggles and successes, city issues, COVID-19 and more. Prior to reporting on the local spectrum, Sahar reported for a national news organization, covering gun violence. Sahar enjoys working as a local reporter because she gets to work with real people and their stories.

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