Local restaurant owners feed flood victims 

The Salanovas had recently purchased a kitchen on wheels – the “Villa Nova’s Curbside Cucina” – and knew that a hot meal might be just what the flood victims and volunteers needed.  “We had been blessed with the Curbside Cucina and we wanted to use it for good,” Alison Salanova said.  “We went on July 14 – three weeks after the flood. It turned out to be an experience I will never forget.”

They estimate they fed between 600 and 800 people; they also delivered donations gathered at Villa Nova’s from Fluvanna residents, including sleeping bags, pillows, and about $1,000 in cash.  When asked about the cost of the trip, Alison Salanova estimated it at between $3,000 and $4,000, but hastened to add that donations from food vendors and customers helped to offset some of the expense.

Alison Salanova coordinated with Tyler Hagemo – a man she calls “an angel on earth” – a Greenbrier Resort professional caddy who launched the Facebook page WSS411 (White Sulfur Springs 411) to keep people up to date about needs in the area and to coordinate supplies and other resources.  White Sulfur Springs was the hardest-hit county; most of the 26 people who died in the historic flood were residents.  Walter Salanova said they connected with Hagemo because “he was helping the people.  We thought he was the representative of the people – he was not representing the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) or the Red Cross.”

Hagemo arranged a location for the mobile kitchen to be set up and notified displaced residents and volunteers.  When the Salanovas arrived, there were already people waiting patiently for them to set up and begin cooking.

Walter Salanova had stayed at Villa Nova’s the night before until midnight, making 125 large pizzas.  These were refrigerated, then re-heated on the scene with the toppings people wanted.   They were given away to anyone who came to them – in fact, according to Walter  Salanova, Hagemo delivered some pizzas to people who could not make it to their location.

Walter Salanova described abandoned buildings filled with mold and mud and rotten fish.  “You couldn’t help but cry, because it was so horrific for people,” he said, shaking his head.  “FEMA and the Red Cross – they didn’t do much,” he said. “And when it was out of the news, they were like a forgotten people.  They don’t have anything,” he emphasized. “They were a humble people and when they are hit hard, they get hurt.  You just have to feel for those people, and be a good neighbor and help them out.  If you don’t help your neighbor – nobody else is going to help them.”

Alison Salanova agreed. “There was a mother came up with her little child and Tyler said, ‘This is who you are helping, right here.’  He later showed us they were living in an abandoned hotel with the mold and the mud. Nobody should live there but they were proud people and they didn’t want to live in the tent city because they are private,” she said.

“They are very proud people,” her husband emphasized.  “They might not have much, but they are very proud.”

Alison Salanova and her friend Holly Snow-Marsh, along with Snow-Marsh’s sons, traveled the countryside with Hagemo, visiting the areas hardest hit and delivering pizzas, sleeping bags, and pillows.  “Friends were telling us about this one family that lost a daughter,” she said.  “They were tethered together in the flood water, but debris came across the line and cut it and they lost her…she was 14.  They never have found her,” she said sadly.  “It is so hard to believe – it was three weeks later and it was complete devastation – people were living in condemned buildings.

“We went to a trailer park that was hit especially hard,” she continued.  “It was awful,  just awful.  We gave them some pizza which they were tickled to death with, but they wouldn’t have just taken it from us if Tyler hadn’t been there. But because Tyler had established a relationship with them, they took it.  What was really touching was when we pulled out the fresh pillows and the sleeping bags – you could just tell on their faces that they knew they could sleep in something clean – just to get away from the mess for a while,” she said.  “The bears were coming down out of the mountains, too – rummaging through the flood debris. It is a very dangerous situation for the people still living there.”

Brittney Koczan, a young employee of Villa Nova’s who went with the Salanovas to West Virginia, said it was a life-changing trip for her.  “We went down knowing we couldn’t help with the big things – we couldn’t rebuild their houses – but we gave them a sense of normalcy, just to sit down and have lunch with their friends,” Koczan explained. “I didn’t get a chance to see a lot of the devastation, but I could tell the people had been through a really rough time, and it made me feel good to see them smile,” she added.  “It meant a lot to be able to help them and to serve them in some way.

“There was a little boy and his mom who came to get pizza,” Koczan remembered.  “She said that he was at daycare and it was storming really bad, so she decided to go ahead and get him.  Once she was at the daycare, they couldn’t leave because it was storming so hard.  It turned out that it was a good thing – they were sort of out of the devastation at the daycare, but where they lived was destroyed.   It has stuck with me how lucky they were to be someplace safe, when so many other people died.” 
Walter and Alison Salanova want to remind Fluvanna residents that their neighbors in West Virginia are still very much in need – even though there are no longer reminders on the nightly news.  They plan to go back, they said, as soon as they can get away from the restaurant again.

“It was just a small group of us,” Alison Salanova said.  “Before we went I thought it is such a small thing what we are doing, feeding them lunch – but it made a difference to the people living there.  We went to West Virginia with love,” she said, “and our small effort really helped people living in conditions we cannot even imagine.”

To learn more about the ongoing needs of the West Virginia flood victims, visit http://www.facebook.com/groups/wssflood411 or https://www.facebook.com/groups/WSSFlood411/permalink/1199087900132392/.

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