Sunset Grill owner Laurie Clayton (third from left) and daughter Emma (far right) serve food to victims of Hurricane Harvey. The Claytons drove down to Lumberton, Texas, with their mobile kitchen to help those in need. [Photo courtesy of John Clayton]

The receding flood waters from Hurricane Harvey in East Texas are a long way from Moab, but that didn’t stop Sunset Grill owners John and Laurie Clayton from traveling more than 1,000 miles to offer hot cooked meals for those in need.

“So many people from Texas come into our restaurant and they are always so friendly,” John Clayton said. “I just knew we needed to help.”

In addition to the restaurant, the Claytons own a mobile kitchen trailer that they use to feed wildland firefighters. They said they can feed 1,000 people a day, and they are perfectly equipped to provide assistance.

“We’re the real deal,” Clayton said. “We’re shooting for 7,000 meals in seven days.”

They started soliciting local donations and launched a Go Fund Me campaign on Aug. 30 that has raised more than $25,000. And by Friday, Sept. 2, they were on their way with their daughter Emma, and Anasazi Realty principal broker and owner Randy Day of Moab.

“Randy came in with a check from Moab Realtors and asked if there was anything else he could do,” John Clayton said. “I told him, ‘As a matter of fact, I need a driver.’”

The crew took a 30-foot mobile kitchen, a 22-foot flat-bed trailer and a loaned box truck filled with nonperishable items.

Day said he felt blessed to be able to help by participating in the 20-hour, one-way drive, unloading four to five tons of goods, and then turning around and driving home for a meeting on Monday, Sept. 4.

“That’s how we help each other,” Day said. “I’ve been truly touched.”

They landed at the Gateway Christian Church in Lumberton, Texas, approximately 15 miles north of hard-hit Beaumont. The facility is serving as a food and supply distribution center for the surrounding area.

“That’s as close as they’d let us get,” Day said. “It’s like a fire – they don’t want anybody in there too close.”

Beaumont received more than 30 inches of rain and one woman lost her life as she was swept away by floodwaters after leaving her disabled vehicle. The city of 118,000, located about 90 miles east of Houston, is currently without clean drinking water.

Areas surrounding Lumberton were severely flooded as well.

Clayton said that social media was key in helping them find a destination. Initially, he said, the American Red Cross wanted them to go to Houston to feed volunteers.

“But we wanted to go into the eye of the storm,” Clayton said. “We wanted to feed people who didn’t have anything.”

Lumberton resident and aid volunteer Chester Russell said the level of devastation in the area is “gut wrenching.” Russell has been helping the Claytons prepare meals.

“You hear a lot about Houston, but you don’t hear about these small communities,” Russell said. “Some of them have been totally wiped out.”

Russell said that out of 34 members on the local varsity football team, 18 had homes that were completely destroyed.

A safety inspector at an Exxon Mobile refinery in Beaumont, Russell said he’d be out of work for at least a month, so he is trying to do what he can to help out. He said Facebook posts directed him to the Claytons.

“John and Laurie and the Sunset Grill have been an answer to all our prayers,” Russell said. “They’re doing a wonderful thing.”

Since putting out their first breakfast on Monday, the Claytons have been fulfilling their goal of providing 1,000 meals a day, including 450 box lunches for children in a makeshift daycare facility.

Laurie Clayton said that although they arrived with lots of nonperishable items, they are still in need of meat, cheese and fresh produce, and that each day is about making do with what they have.

“Someone donated 50 pounds of ground beef and a ton of green peppers, so we’re changing our menu and we’re going to have stuffed green peppers,” she said.

Laurie Clayton said she can’t believe the spirit of the people involved – both volunteers and those whose lives have been so affected.

“Everyone is so helpful and so grateful,” she said. “Some of these people have lost everything. You really feel for these people.”

Clayton said that Texas is very much like Utah in that it is very community oriented.

“It feels like the kind of community everyone would want to be a part of,” she said.

Hurricane Harvey made landfall on Aug. 25 near Rockport, Texas, approximately 175 miles southwest of Houston. A Category 4 storm, Harvey was the first major hurricane to make landfall in the United States since Hurricane Wilma in 2005.

Following sustained winds of 130 miles per hour, Harvey produced intense rainfall, with some areas recording more than 50 inches over a four-day period, making it the wettest tropical hurricane in U.S. history.

Catastrophic flooding ensued, displacing more than 30,000 people and prompting more than 17,000 rescues. At least 60 people are known to have lost their lives.

Russell said that rebuilding would be a long and slow process, but that with their strong sense of community and the help of others, they will pull through.

“We really appreciate the outpouring of love and the efforts of people like John and Laurie,” Russell said.

John Clayton thanked everyone in Moab who helped out, and he said he wanted them to know that “the people down here are just amazing.”

“They’re ‘God Bless America’ all the time,” he said.

Sunset Grill and a local real estate broker aim to serve up 7,000 meals

The people down here are just amazing, they’re ‘God Bless America’ all the time.