Behind the brown-papered windows of “It’s-a-Wrap” café, warm
pumpkin tones and new furnishings were ready to launch the next chapter for owner
and chef David T. Holmes III.
Holmes, 28, celebrated the one-year anniversary of the café in
June and was also just about to become the director of the soup kitchen at a
large church on the block at Park and Seventh, a crossroads not only for
thousands of commuters but also a gathering point for many of the city’s most
needy. The storm struck at the end of the month, closing the kitchen just when
it was normally a vital resource for people in need. Only some commercial
buildings, including the café’s location, had power in the storm’s wake.
One person saw Holmes stopped in traffic and asked him where
to go for something to eat. The plea brought home the storm’s devastation.
“People were starving out here,” Holmes said.
At 5:51 a.m. on the Wednesday after Sandy hit, Holmes said,
“I felt God just wake me up.”
Soon hand-lettered signs overlaid the brown paper on the
café’s windows, offering free coffee, soup, phone charging and shelter from the
“Not open for business, but open for relief” one sign read.
Holmes thought maybe he could help for a day, but he said
Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs found out about his effort and urged him to
continue, as the city sought places to shelter and host residents with no light
Holmes even symbolically unplugged the café’s cash register
for what turned out to be 10 days of selfless giving.
“I believe God gave me the mission,” he said.
As temperatures dipped down to freezing, nearby apartment
dwellers and homeless alike mingled daily in the warm café. Some visitors were
busy checking e-mail or blogging, while others who use the Plainfield Public
Library as a daily haven just needed to be in out of the cold. At 3 p.m. each
day, volunteers served an improvised lunch to the crowd. Donors came by with
canned food, coloring books and crayons, even winter coats. Under a ceiling beam
with the painted words, “… but He still loves you,” people waited for life to
return to normal.
The library opened on Nov. 8 and the café began to empty. On
Nov. 9, with power back at most nearby apartment buildings, Holmes, also known
as Chef D, prepared to close and take stock. The newly refinished floors were
scuffed and would have to be redone. The new carpeting, stained and dirty from traffic
throughout Sandy and a sloppy nor’easter that followed, would most likely have
to be thrown out. Even the tabletops needed refurbishing.
Holmes has some slight
hopes of assistance from outside sources as he picks up where he left off in
late October. He’s also hoping those who appreciated his hospitality will come
back as paying customers and bring their friends along. Whatever happens, he
can look back on a call well answered.
“It sparked a response for civic duty in a sense,” he said.
“Those who didn’t have much still wanted to give much.”
Among those who appreciated what he did, resident Jade Haywood said, "It was a help for me because it really saved me."
Haywood said the cafe, which was open from mid-morning to early evening, was the only place she could get information through television or the internet in the community. Without power, she had even missed the presidential election results.
Haywood said of Holmes, "He's a good young man."
Plainfield Councilwoman Rebecca Williams commented, "Chef D's selflessness and genuine concern for our city's struggling residents shows how we as a community can come together in times of crisis. Some of my updates on the status of the restoration were posted from his cafe. He and his crew kept us warm, cheerful, and well-fed--what an awesome young man!"
Volunteers Jackie Glaspy, Jeremy Rodas, Zina Gregory and
Isaiah Robinson helped Holmes welcome about 250 visitors a day to the café,
which began several years ago as Heritage Internet Café. Holmes changed the
name in June 2011 along with the menu, which now features wrap sandwiches and
He made a similar outreach to the community when Hurricane
Irene struck in August 2011, but did not see an increase in business.
Now, he says, “Hopefully God will say, I can trust
you with more opportunities.”
The café at 631 Park Avenue in Plainfield is closed again
for renovations. Check It’s-A-Wrap Café on Facebook for updates on its