Despite their savvy concept of serving food in a box, Rachel and Randy Fox are the type of restauranteurs who think outside of it. The heart of their North 4th Street eatery, The Foxes Boxes, focuses on quickly served farm-to-table fare, prepared slowly with love. The couple’s business model always has been socially-conscious in nature.
So, when Hurricane Florence prepared to rock Wilmington, Foxes got ready to roll. They hunkered down and took shelter inside the walls of their sturdy NOFO building. The instant the worst of it had passed, their doors were open. As they realized parts of their community had been devastated, and many without food, they turned to what they do best: feed. Their charming café became a hub to collect supplies, donate meals, and offer countless volunteer opportunities. With Foxes at the helm, the northside responded with what it does best: come together.
Here’s the story, with interview from Rachel Bodkin-Fox.
encore (e) What day did you open to the community after Florence made landfall?
Rachel Bodkin-Fox (RBF): We fed some families and neighbors Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Sunday, though, was the first moment I realized our northside families were out of food. A mom and her two kids were standing in front of the restaurant trying to get cell service to see if anywhere was open. I brought them in, and made a stack of peanut butter sandwiches, cookies and drinks. Many families on the northside rely on public transit, and buses didn’t run for days after the storm. Even when grocery stores were beginning to open, they had no way to get to food. Living in a food desert during normal days is challenging enough, but during this storm, it was dangerous—especially for our medically fragile neighbors.
e: What made you decide to stay instead of evacuate?
RBF: The Foxes Boxes is our only source of income. My husband and I were anxious that, if we stayed at our house, we could get flooded and not be able to open. Our restaurant is housed in one of the oldest-standing furniture stores in Wilmington, and it’s weathered many storms and is still standing strong. Our landlord boarded the windows, so we really felt like we were in a bunker. We packed a week’s worth of clothes, food, and set up camp [in the restaurant].
e: Have you always been drawn toward giving back?
RBF: Yes. Advocating for those living in extreme poverty happens without much thought for me. After moving to Wilmington in 2007, I became a volunteer Congressional District Leader for the ONE Campaign (whose mission is to raise awareness for those living in extreme poverty and hold our elected officials accountable for supporting programs that save lives around the globe). I was a founding member of the ONE Moms Advisory Council, and we traveled to Kenya with ABC World News visiting programs supported by US foreign aid. I have led many other advocacy efforts, sit on several nonprofit boards, and work to create change through action.
e: What items were donated by whom?
RBF: Food safety is huge to us at The Foxes Boxes. The last thing you’d want is to be sick in the aftermath of a storm. Our goal was to feed our neighbors on Thursday before the storm, and then use up as much of our food as possible. When our power went out Friday morning, we knew our food had to be thrown out. What we did have left was lots of bread, some dry goods, and to-go containers.
Our friend [Alister Snyder] at Detour Deli had a generator and was able to provide some deli meat for the bread, so we began partnering with Cape Fear Volunteer Center and World Central Kitchen to get meal deliveries out. We plated and distributed the food on foot to our neighbors with our wonderful community partner, Good Works.
e: Was the initial relief effort focused on feeding people or getting out supplies?
RBF: After feeding the first family and knowing there was a need, we connected with Kristen McKeithen and Greg Pampell of Good Works, who were able to get to the restaurant and help us make as many sandwiches as we could. When Kristen and I began walking toward Taylor Homes with sandwiches and bottled water, we didn’t make it two blocks before running out of food. We ended up on 5th and Brunswick streets, walking north and just started meeting hungry neighbor after neighbor who had trees down, roofs leaking and medical needs.
We knew we needed to create our plan of action. The next morning, we made three thermoses of coffee and started walking from our restaurant toward 10th and Fanning to DREAMS, which also was organizing a relief station. Our goal was to inform neighbors to spread the word there would be food, water and supplies available. We ended up walking all the way to DREAMS, up and down every block, and coming back to the restaurant a different way to cover more area. We met so many people in need who weren’t able to walk in the heat to the relief station, as well as neighbors who wanted to come back to the restaurant to help.
Now with addresses and a crew, we were able to begin organizing! We had a solid team of volunteers that started coming in on Tuesday for every meal delivery (coordinated with northside maps, to make sure we covered all areas). The best part was the wagon train: Our volunteers brought in wagons, made signs, and were led out the door each time by 5-year-old Vivian.
We’ve tracked volunteer hours with the support of Cape Fear Volunteer Center. I would say we’ve had at least 25 to 50 o more volunteers or donors daily. There has been a core of about 20 individuals who were with us morning until night.
e: What did you serve and to how many?
RBF: Once our power was on, we received generous donations from World Central Kitchen and Pine Valley Market. Volunteers made runs to Sam’s Club for our veggies. We made peanut butter and jelly on tortillas, ham, green beans, cauliflower, deli sandwiches, and added bags of chips, and granola bars. We used any and all of our paper products that would work; US Foods made a special donation of to-go boxes, and volunteers brought in lunch bags. We were creative and resourceful.
We walked close to 3,000 meals to our neighbors with the wagon train, and have distributed well over 500 bags of supplies. The plan is to continue a mini donation grocery of relief items until we can get a grocery on the northside. When our neighbors start to get back on their feet, the mini grocery will offer “pay what you can,” with donations going to Good Works, so they can continue northside projects.
e: What has helped push you through the difficult and exhausting parts?
RBF: It’s hard to answer the question without breaking down. This storm has been devastating for so many families in our neighborhood and beyond. The stories we have heard of loss will stay with us forever. We really are exhausted, but the pure, authentic love, kindness and giving we have seen is beyond and lifts us. We have formed forever friendships.
e: In what ways has this connected you even deeper to the neighborhood?
RBF: Oh, the northside—there is a spirit that runs deep. As we walked the streets we invited people to come by the restaurant and fill up bags for their homebound neighbors. Over the days, many drove their elderly in to pick up their own supplies and food. These neighbors shared memories of the furniture store and all of the businesses that lined 4th. We shared hugs, laughs and tears. We only hope to deepen our connections with our northside neighbors.
e: I saw your daughter Isabel started an apparel campaign from NYC…
RBF: It’s another part of the story that breaks me down. I told our family and friends before the storm that Isabel would be the one person I would connect with—so she would keep everyone updated on our Facebook page. Our youngest son had evacuated with a family to Charlotte, but when the storm changed directions, he and my daughter coordinated him getting to NYC (also without my knowledge) so they could be together. Like many others who were watching the storm from afar, they wanted to help. They designed a T-shirt campaign and are now only a few away from their goal of 100 shirts. As of now, she’s sold 84 shirts and raised over $1,500. I am simply blown away. It’s really hard to express the gratitude and love.
Check out the restaurant and support their T-shirt sales at thefoxesboxes.com.