Big Croatian Heart, Croatian-American restaurant in New Orleans reopened and is giving away food for free
By Mark Egan
Tue Sep 6,
On a devastated street corner in a gritty New Orleans neighborhood an
impromptu shrine stands as testament that even during the horror
visited upon this city by Hurricane Katrina, kindness is not
forgotten. Made of bricks from a nearby building destroyed by the
storm, the improvised structure protects a body that lies covered by
a white sheet. A cross fashioned of two pieces of wood found among
nearby debris marks the site as a grave, albeit a temporary one. On
the sheet covering the corpse are written the words "Here Lies Vera,
God Help Us." Before locals built this shrine, the woman had lain
dead on the street. Her body was bloated and brutally distorted,
untouched and ignored for almost a week by authorities who were
working slowly to evacuate the thousands left homeless. Since
Katrina and the floods that followed hit New Orleans, the city has
been struck by unexpected hardships.
Looting was rampant, refugee camps became the scenes of rapes,
murders and robbery. Many lost everything and lacked even food and
drinking water. But as the worst appears to have passed and most of
those left stranded have been evacuated, acts of kindness abound.
Dmitri Kachkov, a 35-year-old man who uses a wheelchair due to
extreme physical disabilities, knows about hardship -- his family
became refugees from Russia in 1997 and moved here. When Katrina
made them refugees again, they expected to sleep in their van. Just
before the storm hit, Kachkov and his parents drove north and took
refuge in a roadside truck stop.
Then a stranger -- Diana Cantello of Gramercy, Louisiana -- invited
them to stay at her home. "My mother cried at such unexpected
hospitality," Kachkov said. They spent nine days and nights at
Cantello's home, where a mother and her two children had also been
invited to stay. "Then yesterday it was my mother's 69th birthday and
they baked her a cake and bought her small presents. My mother never
expected such kindness, especially during this disaster," Kachkov
said on Monday after his family returned to Metairie, Louisiana, to
see how damaged their rental apartment was. Near the Kachkov home is
Drago's Seafood Restaurant. Since the storm raged more than a week
ago, five employees of the upscale eatery have lived on the premises
to protect it from looters who have destroyed businesses across the
city. Then on Monday the restaurant reopened, serving charred chicken
on pasta with a Cajun marinara sauce and ice-cold water -- a rare
luxury in this city in recent days.
The food was free to anyone who wanted it.
"We have decided that we will serve free food as long as our
resources last, probably until we give away $20,000 of free food,"
said owner Klara Cvitanovich. Cvitanovich, 66, who came here from
Croatia in her youth, was also shipping food out to poor
neighborhoods. "I can honestly say I have lived the American dream,
and now I have to give something back," she said.
© 2005 Reuters