STONEVILLE — Hurricane Florence robbed Amy Sparks-Martin of about 32 hours of sleep.
The caterer and co-owner of The Ritz Gourmet Inc., also known as Debbie’s Catering, traded time in her bed for time at the stove to prepare 12,000-plus meals during the past week for area storm refugees and dozens of Duke Energy workers.
With a fleet of 12 vehicles and most of her extended family tying on aprons to meet the need, the mother of seven has set the table for breakfast, lunch and dinner at one of the region’s largest American Red Cross shelters at Wake Forest University’s LJVM Coliseum in Winston-Salem.
“I had cousins I didn’t even know I had come to help,” Sparks-Martin said with a chuckle from her Henry Street kitchen.
At its busiest, the arena played host to 700 refugees last week – most from the Wilmington area or Jacksonville, said Steven Wise, a Red Cross volunteer and acting director of the shelter.
By Wednesday, most of the Jacksonville residents had returned home, leaving about 300 people still in need, Wise said. Roast beef, chicken Française, barbecue an array of home-cooked veggies, and scratch-made cobblers and cakes from The Ritz Gourmet, meant extra hospitality for weary displaced guests, volunteers agreed.
“They’ve served all the meals except one since the shelter opened,” Wise said. “The service they’ve provided is just phenomenal, and the food is really good.”
The catering company will continue to serve the shelter until it closes, said Sparks-Martin.
Utility workers from Madison, Reidsville, Rural Hall, Greensboro, High Point, Lewisville, North Wilkesboro, Elkin, Kernersville and Mt. Airy gobbled up the caterer’s hot breakfasts of eggs, biscuits, gravy, bacon, sausage and grits, then enjoyed tasty boxed lunches of subs, potato salad, chips and dessert.
“It’s been all hands on deck,” said Sparks-Martin, who has contracted with the Red Cross and Duke Energy to provide sustenance during past disasters.
She and her father, Dennis Sparks, also of Stoneville, operate the 35-year-old business where 10 cooks worked 23 hours per day to fill the orders.
“I’ve been up since 4:45 a.m. Friday morning, and I just slept a little bit last night,” Sparks-Martin said Wednesday, explaining she relied on cola and adrenaline to stay awake. The dynamo has a pair of twins, too. “They’re 11 months old! So it’s been an interesting week.”
The Ritz has given extra meals from the large orders to area food banks and homeless shelters, Sparks-Martin said.
She wants to give back a little more. So Sparks-Martin is asking folks to guess how many pounds of food and gallons of sweet tea and lemonade the catering company sent out to relief workers and refugees.
The winner will receive a free catered dinner for 50. Sparks-Martin invited members of the community to join the gambit by posting estimates on the company’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/debbiesrestaurantandcatering/reviews?ref=page_internal.