Helping Hands

Bar Castaneda, Shooting Star Acres among those feeding displaced New Mexicans

A scene from a recent free buffet in Las Vegas organized by chef Sean Sinclair. (Courtesy Sean Sinclair)

“My wife and I had a long conversation about what the best way to help would be,” says Sean Sinclair, owner of Las Vegas, New Mexico’s Bar Castaneda and Lamy’s Legal Tender Saloon & Eating House. “Eventually we were like, ‘What are we talking about? We’re a restaurant. Let’s cook food.”

For a few weeks now, Sinclair and his staff have presided over a nightly free buffet at Bar Castaneda for firefighters and New Mexicans displaced by the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon fire. Just last Friday, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham warned of worsening conditions for the wildfire, which is currently the largest in the country and recently surpassed 200,000 acres. Temperatures are due to rise this week, as are winds, and at 39% containment as of this writing, that’s a whole lot of fire to fight.

Meanwhile, Sinclair, who moved to Lamy last September from Las Vegas to open the Legal Tender, but who still considers Vegas like his home, estimates the meals were feeding roughly 150 displaced New Mexicans per night as of last week. He now tells SFR that number has doubled and will likely go up. He and his crew will also continue delivering meals to homebound locals in that area, and it’s all possible, Sinclair says, through food and time donations.

Charlie’s Spic and Span in Las Vegas, for example, has donated food to the cause, as have that town’s Prairie Hill Café and Hillcrest Restaurant and Trading Post Saloon.Albuquerque’s Farm and Table has also lent a hand, and on the day SFR spoke with Sinclair, he’d just partnered with Heritage Hotels & Resorts, the parent company of hotels like Hotel St. Francis and the El Dorado Hotel & Spa, to keep the project going. Sinclair previously worked for Heritage, he says.

Additionally, a crowdfunding operation accessible through website had raised more than $59,000 by the time of this writing, and the buffet and deliveries will continue, according to Sinclair, seven days a week—until they’re no longer needed.

“That’s the New Mexican in all these people,” Sinclair explains, adding that some of his staff who have also been displaced by the fires continue to show up and serve others. “It’s unbelievable how New Mexicans come together in a crisis, it’s such a blessing to live here. These gestures of kindness are healing in themselves, and it’s what gives us the energy to dig deep and keep pushing.”

Sinclair briefly notes that, like many restaurants today, he’s working with a limited staff and the outfit could use volunteers. Already, he says, organizers are working on an online platform through which potential volunteers can donate their time for a shift or two at the buffet or delivering food.

Various eggs from Shooting Star Acres. (Alicia Weiss)

“We’re already beat and exhausted, but we’re really not complaining,” Sinclair tells SFR. “The most impactful thing will be to put boots on the ground—that’s the resource we need help garnering. The thing is, there are community foundations and wonderful nonprofits that are going to step in—FEMA, even, and things that help with large-scale support. We just saw something we had the means to produce, so we did, and we’re going to supply this as long as it’s necessary.”

Meanwhile, up near La Puebla, Alicia Weiss of Shooting Star Acres, a small off-the-grid farm, tells SFR she’s offering a free dozen eggs to any displaced New Mexicans, and they can come from any number of birds, be it chicken, duck or quail. A Navy vet, Weiss grew up in Los Alamos, fell in love with small-scale farming and animal rescue while living in Georgia, and has now returned, along with her two children and husband, to get growing. For now, she says, Shooting Star is operating on a small plot of land belonging to a friend, but she and her family are searching for a dream spot. While they’re looking, she says, she wants to elucidate farming for a new generation.

“Our mission is to grow, sustain and educate, and if we’re not aiming to do better for the community, or to leave the community in a better condition for future generations, then we’re not doing anything,” she says.

Those interested in claiming a dozen eggs can reach out to Weiss through Facebook or Instagram, which she says she checks daily, and those in need can even request a melange of various egg types. Usually, Weiss says, she only sells the eggs to pay for feed. In giving them away, however, she hopes to play some role in providing comfort to those whom the fire has affected more gravely.

“It’s about a sense of community,” she tells SFR. “Not everybody can go supply dog crates or toiletry items, but this is what we’re able to do. I’m not selling my eggs, this is just to try and help. It’s the least we can do for those going through something so unimaginable.”

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