This Chef Fed New Orleans After Katrina. Now He's Taking Care of Those Affected by Coronavirus Crisis.

David Guas gearing up to serve 500 free meals on Tuesday.
David Guas preparing vats of beans. Simone Rathle

The Washington, D.C.-area chef and his wife didn't hesitate to help the community during coronavirus epidemic.

When Hurricane Katrina brought New Orleans to its knees, chef David Guas offered a way up. In the chaos of the ongoing coronavirus crisis, he's doing the same.

Like folks all over the country, Guas and his wife, Simone Rathle, wanted to make a difference, in some small way, in these reeling times. So they're gearing up to give away free meals Tuesday at their Washington, D.C.-area, restaurant.

Fifteen years ago, when Guas' mother lost her home to Katrina and her city was in ruins, he and Rathle were able to raise $39,000 in four hours, through sheer force of their considerable wills.

Sitting around worrying and feeling helpless is simply not their style.

"When times are bad, I want to do something good," Rathle told Monday, her voice breaking. "And it helps me to not think about it," she said of the angst descending across the U.S. as each new day brings something new to fear.

Beginning at 10 a.m. Tuesday, containers of red beans and rice will be available at Bayou Bakery in Arlington, Virginia, where Guas and his staff have been toiling for days to gather and cook enough food for 500 people. 

When schools in the area closed last week, Guas and his wife were first concerned with the kids who would miss school-provided meals. There are about 300 children at one school in their area who receive such meals, Rathle said.

The kids might be frightened, the couple thought. Then they realized the parents would probably be spooked, too.

"I think it's the hysteria about it," Rathle said. "Kids aren't getting the right information. Many of the parents don't fully speak English, and they're afraid."

So the restaurant owners decided they would just feed everybody, as long as the food held out.

The message they are trying to send, she said, is "just try to be calm. Be safe. We're taking care of you."

Guas reached out to the nonprofit children's group Real Food for Kids, which advocates for healthy school food. 

The organization and the restaurant had collaborated before, but this time, the situation is much more dire.

"There is just a huge need," said executive director Jenn Yates. And not just for children.

"We also want to feed their families. A hungry parent is not a good thing to have either," she said. "I think there's going to be a lot of people out there who have lost their (work) hours, they've lost their child care. They can't work and they're really feeling the pinch."

On Monday, New York bars and restaurants were ordered closed to dine-in service. Only deliveries and take-out orders would be available, officials said. Other locales, such as the Bay Area, have adopted similar regulations. The economic fallout of such closures, and the burden of caring for children no longer in school, remains to be seen.

"I can work remotely," Yates said, as her children could be heard singing in the background. "But if you work in a place that's an hourly job and you can't work remotely, you're losing your whole income.

"It's chilling to think about what the long-term impact is," she said. "We're just trying to do what we can."