Food is Laurel Dunwoody's love language.
So as her neighbors walked numbly around High Street and Capitol Avenue surveying tornado damage in the morning light of May 23, she started cooking.
"I walked up there, and everyone's walking around in a daze. I didn't know what to do, and there was really nothing that you could do," said Dunwoody, whose meal-preparation business Love2Nourish, somehow untouched by the tornado, is on the corner of East High and Lafayette streets.
"So I came back down here, and all I had was some cold brew coffee, so I took that up there with cups and maple syrup and almond milk just so that people could have some coffee."
When she learned of the damage across the city the night before, she worried it might be the end for Love2Nourish, which has moved several times since opening in 2015.
"I just decided — after us having moved up here just in October — that if this was gone, I was just going to close Love2Nourish," she recalled. "I wasn't even going to try again."
But instead of closing up shop, she cooked for two weeks straight.
Later that morning, she sent her staff to Sam's Club to stock up on food. Her husband brought a generator and tents from their home, and she rolled a flat-top grill up the street.
"We just set everything up outside the prison wall and just started cooking," she said. "Once we got up there, we started getting donations of things. Somebody brought their propane grill, and I was able to not use the tiny flat-top anymore. People were bringing additional food. So we just cooked all day."
She and her staff cooked 200 pounds of meat that first day.
The next day, Sysco Foods entrusted her with a truckload of food and water. Then World Central Kitchen offered to fund two weeks' worth of meals for disaster relief volunteers and people in need in Jefferson City and Eldon — all through Love2Nourish.
"In all, in the two weeks, we did over 8,200 meals," Dunwoody said.
With 20-50 volunteers showing up every day, Love2Nourish continued providing meals from the shop in the heart of Jefferson City as well as sending them to other tornado-damaged areas in Cole County and Eldon.
"I was amazed at how many people just showed up and how they didn't question it — the only thing they asked is 'How can I help my neighbor?'" Dunwoody said.
The experience has changed her perspective. The neighborhood feels different. The widespread needs of people across the city are more apparent. But she would do her part all over again if she could.
"I knew how to feed people, and if that's how I can bring comfort to people, then that's what I'll do," Dunwoody said.
Other "Heroes of the Storm"
There were nearly 20 individuals and organizations who received plaques Saturday, Aug. 27, 2019, at a ceremony recognizing them as "Heroes of the Storm" for their actions during the May 22 tornado. Read their stories: