PHILIPSBURG – The devastating hurricane Irma, which pounded the Leeward Islands last September, also left a mark on the lives of DJ Jansen, and Joost de Jong. They desperately tried reaching friends, and family from their home-base in the Netherlands.
After this the couple launched helpsxm.org, and decided to sell all of their possessions in the Netherlands to start a food share program on Sint Maarten.
While Joost de Jong stayed in the Netherlands to see the sale of their house in Sleeuwijk through, DJ Jansen left for Sint-Maarten last month. He hoped to start building the foundations for the Freegan Food Café, an initiative which hands out free meals in neighborhoods where the effects of hurricane Irma can still be felt.
Just before I left, I started panicking. “I thought to myself: what am I getting myself in to? More than two months without Joost. I must be crazy!”
Cooking five days a week for five weeks
However he was determined when he got to Sint Maarten. “Joost and I were on Sint Maarten in February to help with food distribution. We had started a collection in the Netherlands, and were planning on cooking three hundred meals during three days. On the first day we were asked if we could cook fifty meals for an elderly home, and sixty meals for an emergency shelter. We ended up cooking five days a week for five weeks.”
‘A year after the hurricane, there are still people without a roof on their house’
It was a shock to see how slowly the island is being rebuilt, says DJ. “Now, a year after the hurricane, there are still people without a roof on their house. Whole families live in deplorable conditions. It’s just sad.”
Handing out meals out of the back of a SUV
After returning to the Netherlands, the idea to move to Sint Maarten for a longer period of time, and distribute food started to creep up. DJ said that he could count on the support from donors, and volunteers.
“This is exactly how Joost and I imagined it could be: supermarkets who donate a portion of their perishable goods, tourists who help out in the kitchen for a few hours, and volunteers who help distribute the food in the neighborhoods.
‘Yes, fruits and vegetables, that’s what people say’
The meals are one hundred percent plant based. “I prepared myself for push-back, negative remarks, but I haven’t heard any yet.” Says DJ. “Everyone is happy with the meals we provide. ‘Yes, fruits and vegetables’, that’s what people say. You can see that people need it, a healthy meal. The need is very real.”
DJ receives more, and more donations: clothing, and shoes from the Red Cross. And supermarkets are donating dog and cat food. “I feel so thankful, and very fortunate,” says DJ. “It’s a blessing for all of us.”