Katie Startzman eastern kentucky flooding

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Katie Startzman cooks a meal for victims of flooding in Hindman, KY.

Relief efforts are still ongoing for those affected by the devastating Eastern Kentucky flooding and a local restaurant owner is answering the call for help.

Instead of boats, chain saws, or shovels — Katie Startzman is bringing knives, cutting boards, and her cooking skills to Eastern Kentucky to feed those displaced by the flood waters.

Startzman, who owns Native Bagel, Nightjar, and also serves on the Berea City Council, left Madison County Saturday evening and traveled to Hindman Settlement School in Knott County to help feed the victims of last week’s devastating floods in Eastern Kentucky.

Startzman said she was answering the call for help from good friend and fellow chef and restaurateur, Kristin Smith. Smith owns of The Wrigley Taproom in Corbin and was attending a writer’s workshop at the Hindman Settlement School when the floods hit.

“I was there when the flash flood hit and had to be evacuated to higher ground,” Smith recalled. “I watched (the devastation) from a porch in the night; between flashes of lighting with the water rising.”

Smith said it was a harrowing experience to watch the rising waters wreak havoc.

“Several of my friend’s cars got taken... We waited till dawn to see the destruction that was left. It was crazy. It just happened so fast and then it went down really fast. I’ve never seen anything like it. I’ve seen a river flood, but this was a creek flood,” Smith explained.

Once the initial shock wore off, Smith said she returned to Corbin to prepare herself to help.

According to the chef, a lot of food was left over from the writer’s workshop, and she knew exactly how to put her skills to work.

From Hindman, Smith rallied chef friends from around the state, including Startzman.

Smith said the chefs are still working without power in the area, but were able to gather some propane and grills in order to prepare food.

According to Startzman and Smith, the legion of chefs are working in collaboration with World Central Kitchen, who are stationed in Hazard to help with relief efforts.

“I put that call out and just let everybody know what was going on and asked if they could help,” Smith said.

Startzman said she has been living out of her trailer outside of the Hindman Settlement School since Saturday evening.

“It’s kind of selfish, because I think when something like this happens, our first reaction as a human is ‘What can I do?’ I’m grateful that cooking is an easy way to help meet a need,” Startzman said.

For now, the chef’s are focusing on providing the most important meal of the day.

“We are doing hot breakfast. This morning, we made fried potatoes and scrambled eggs and sausages,” Startzman said Monday.

According to Smith, people displaced from the floods naturally knew to head to the Hindman Settlement School, as it has always been a community hub. She noted that relief organizing began rapidly, as water, money, and volunteers began pouring into the community.

On Monday, the campus of the Hindman Settlement School is housing roughly 30 displaced victims of last week’s flooding. Apart from hosting a variety of Kentucky chef’s and the hot meals they are cranking out, the school is also working as a distribution center for water and other important supplies.

Smith is currently back in Corbin, while Startzman will be returning to Berea for a city council meeting tomorrow.

Both said they plan on returning to Eastern Kentucky as soon as possible.

Startzman noted she is taking a “one meal at a time” kind of approach to the situation.

When disaster strikes, it is not uncommon to see cooks on the front line with first responders. Smith thinks that desire to nurture is just part of working in food.

“That’s the core and nature of our career. We nourish and we care for our community in that capacity every day. That’s why we do what we do, it’s what gives us purpose. And when the need is amped up to that degree of disaster, that’s the only answer. People have to eat, they have to live,” Smith said. “Hindman needed to know that people knew what they went through, and are going through, and they aren’t being ignored.”

Smith said feeding the community helps keep citizens, workers, and volunteers focused on important relief efforts.

“They don’t have to worry about food, they can worry about finding missing family members or taking their homes and lives back,” Smith said.

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