The former Food Network star and best-selling author has been running relief flights to and from Texas and Puerto Rico for weeks.
Ingrid Hoffmann was a woman on a mission.
In 1992, Hurricane Andrew “flattened” Hoffmann’s home, leaving the former star of the Food Network’s Simply Delicioso homeless for an entire year and without many of her most beloved possessions, including her birth certificate. “Your life is impacted forever, to lose your memories and all the things you hold dear,” Hoffmann, who has written several best-selling cookbooks like Simply Delicioso and hosts multiple TV shows on Spanish-language networks like Univision, told Moneyish.
That’s why, in late August, as she watched Hurricane Harvey bare down upon Texas, Hoffmann knew she had to help the victims.
A Texas-based chef Hoffmann knew, Ronnie Killen, had been posting Facebook updates about free meals that he and his team were preparing for first responders — but confessed online that he was quickly running out of food. When Hoffmann asked how she could help, Killen told her: “‘Besides getting a jet and filling it with food, I really can’t think of [what else you can do].'”
So that’s exactly what Hoffmann did. She swiftly enlisted a friend, Michael Keister, who had run emergency flights for almost a month after the 2010 Haiti earthquake, to lend her a plane and a pilot. His wife, Susan Lewis, shelled out approximately $10,000 from her two companies to cover expenses. And a neighbor, who owned a Latin grocery brand, El Latino, donated 18,000 pounds of chorizo, a “fatty protein,” which Hoffmann selected because it was versatile and could keep people satiated.
Twenty-four hours later, delivery men had loaded the food up onto a freezing plane, and Hoffmann and her pilot set out for Texas. After a bumpy flight through torrential storm and a stressful refueling stop in rural Alabama, they finally touched down in Pearland, Texas, and delivered the chorizo to a grateful chef Killen. He used it to prepare “a ton of hot wraps,” feeding several thousand people.
“When I saw the pictures of the food and [Killen] told me, ‘This is what you brought…’ I mean, it’s just incredible. I think about and I cry,” Hoffmann reflected.
Hoffmann soon realized, though, that her work there wasn’t done — she had previously seen on the news that dozens of dogs were trapped at shelters that were so badly flooded that the animals were “floating in their cages.” So at about four o’clock the following morning, a sleepless Hoffmann sneaked into a dark hangar, waited hours for Humane Society representatives to arrive, and took possession of a dozen large dogs.
When she arrived back at the tarmac to met her jet, she told the apprehensive captain: “We can either take off now, or leave these dogs on the tarmac in the heat. Or you can help me load them up and we go.” The pilot obliged.
Thirty-six hours after all this had begun, Hoffmann and her 12 dogs landed in Pompano Beach, Florida. Overcome with a mix of emotions including exhaustion, relief, and joy, she began to cry. “I cried so much throughout this entire thing,” Hoffmann said.
Not even a month later though, Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico, leaving much of the island in rubble.
At Hoffmann’s behest, Keister and his wife agreed to donate $50,000 worth of medical equipment and power generators to the cause — and Hoffmann and several others boarded a Gulfstream IV jet loaded with the supplies, and flew down to the island for a hectic four-hour relief mission. On the return trip home, she filled the plane with infirm victims of the storm who desperately needed medical care.
That was just the first of many flights on the Gulfstream IV and several other planes, all of which were coordinated almost single-handled by Hoffmann. Indeed, over the next few weeks in Miami, she became a one-woman airline, organizing flights to get nearly 2,000 sick Puerto Ricans to the continental United States for treatment.
Thanks to social media, Hoffmann started receiving calls from unknown individuals in possession of planes and jets, who wanted to help. “I can give you twenty seats on a plane a day after tomorrow,” one would say. “All of a sudden I had this woman call me: ‘I have ghost flights that are not in the system… I’ll give you forty seats on it for $90 each,'” she told her.
With limited seats available and the needs of thousands of sick victims weighing on her shoulders, Hoffmann often struggled as she was forced to choose who to rescue first. “You have to pick between a boy on a respirator or a woman that is 38 and missed four days of dialysis. Who do you pick?” Hoffmann asked, noting that her methodology was to prioritize those who needed the care fastest, and board those people on the first flights out.
“You are playing God… You start learning the cases very intimately; you are speaking to their family members, whether they are in Texas, Houston, Chicago, Miami, who will be waiting for them on this end.”
Asked what she wants people to learn from her efforts, Hoffmann said this: “We always underestimate the power that we, as civilians, have, just by setting our minds to helping and doing service… It takes governments to set up shelters and go through all the politics, but it takes forever, and in the meantime, it’s three days and people haven’t eaten.”
And, she concluded: “Rescuing becomes a drug. You see the results, you see what you’re able to do, and you’re having a true impact on people’s lives in their darkest hours.”
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