Food and Fellowship for Fire Victims

July 16, 2012 • United States

Owners of a restaurant in New Mexico dish out free meals and encouragement for people who have suffered loss in wildfires

At the entrance to a small café in Alto, New Mexico, a sign greets weary townsfolk who have been battling wildfires for weeks.

“Free Buffet, Anyone Who Needs It! God Bless!”

The café is owned by Pete and Cheryl Blanchard. Authorities ordered them to evacuate when the Little Bear Fire closed in. Their house was spared, but they were heartbroken that the fire claimed many of their neighbors’ homes.

RECOVERING BELONGINGS, REBUILDING HOPE: Samaritan’s Purse teams responding to wildfires and flooding are conveying the message that God cares.

The Blanchards wanted to help, and they knew what to do: start cooking. The couple began providing free meals for evacuees, and fellowship for the hurting. The café became a central location for local donations. The tip jar, which simply reads “donations for fire victims,” soon topped $8,000.

“The Alto Café has become a refuge for people,” Cheryl said. “I can’t begin to tell you how that makes my heart feel, to know that I can be there for them, and I will be here for them until this is over.”

Even Samaritan’s Purse staff and volunteers who are responding to the wildfires have been blessed by the Blanchard’s prayerful hospitality. Our teams are regular guests at the café, and on July 4 Pete and Cheryl prepared a meal at our base camp at Angus Church of the Nazarene.

“Cheryl and her family have fed everyone in the community who needed a meal and haven’t asked for anything in return,” said Brent Graybeal, program manager for the New Mexico response. “She says God has been so good she just wants others to feel the love that has been shown to them. They truly have a heart of service. She seems to never tire, and has been a blessing to the community as well as Samaritan’s Purse.”

Cheryl is no stranger to helping. Through the years, the Blanchards have opened their home to battered women, adopted a child from the area, and run a Christian fellowship in the café. A bookshelf stands in a corner of the dining room filled with Bibles that are free for the taking. She keeps a list in the restaurant where people can write their needs. Cheryl prays over each need, and sometimes she is able to meet those needs through donations.

A local man brought an extra refrigerator and stove to Cheryl, knowing she’d be able to find the perfect home for it. Shortly after he dropped off the appliances, Cheryl received a call from a father whose appliances had burned up in the fire. He had been using a cooler to try to keep his newborn baby’s milk chilled for three weeks.

When Samaritan’s Purse staff were eating lunch in the café one day, a man walked in and handed her an envelope, knowing she would use it where most needed. It was a large sum of cash, and Cheryl immediately went to the list of needs to see where it best could be used.

Cheryl said the more she and Pete have given, the more blessing they’ve received from the Lord. And they are delighted that Samaritan’s Purse has come to help with the wildfire response.

“When I first heard about Samaritan’s Purse being here, and then I saw that 18-wheeler down at the Nazarene church, I just—it made me cry because I knew that there was hope for this community.”

Philippians 4:19-20 says, “And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” God is fulfilling His word in the Alto Café.