A Chocolatier with a Cause

by Luke Thomas.

Six months ago, Greg and Kathy Stein took to the streets of Birmingham – homemade lunches in-tow – to feed the homeless of the city. It was something they had done religiously for 20 years, rain or shine, holiday or not.

The selfless couple passed out food for the last time before packing up and starting a new life in the U.S. Virgin Islands. It had always been a dream of theirs to live there, and with the new restaurant they had just bought, it was time to make it happen.

chocolate

The unfortunate irony of this story appeared just half a year later. The Steins, back in Birmingham, had gone from helping the homeless to becoming homeless.

Such was the result of Hurricane Irma. While the road to recovery will be a long one, the Steins have one thing on their side – an incredible network of friends and family ready to help.

Graphic Designer Emily Johnson has been one of their biggest supporters, raising hundreds of dollars through a chocolate-selling campaign. But there’s more to this story than your average fundraiser. The Steins just may have found their golden ticket.

Hurricane Havoc

Hurricane Irma struck the U.S. Virgin Islands in September and devastated houses, vegetation, and infrastructure. The Steins’ home and restaurant were no luckier than the rest of the island.

The family and chef lived in an apartment above their newly-purchased restaurant, The Thirsty Donkey. It was a dream come true when the Steins saw that the restaurant, which they had first visited on their honeymoon, was up for sale. When they won a trip to the islands last year, they took the opportunity, bought the restaurant, and made the move.

Now, the apartment stands roofless. Debris and rubble are everywhere, the floor collapsed, and most of the interior is left unusable.

With the hurricane approaching, the Steins sought refuge with a friend who lived atop one of the mountains – a retired CIA agent. They made a good choice, since the agent’s safe room, 360-degree mountaintop view, and self-defense training was vital to their survival.

“Looters and robbers were going rampant on the islands,” Emily Johnson said. “When one person would leave the house, the others would watch with binoculars while they returned to make sure no one was following them up the mountain.”

In a phone conversation with her daughter, Kathy reiterated the chaos breaking out.

“People have nothing,” Kathy said. “And they’re getting robbed of the nothing they have.”

donkey collage
Before and after view of The Thirsty Donkey

 

Help from the ‘Ham

On September 16, the Steins boarded a ferry to Puerto Rico to catch a plane back to the United States. When they arrived, they found overwhelming support.

Johnson banded together with scores of Birmingham residents who had been touched by the Steins in some way. The group came up with restaurant benefit nights, chocolate sales, and a donation site that has raised more than $15,000.

donkey restaurant

“The Steins have started several big charities during their 20 years in Birmingham, like Monday Runday and Big Benefit,” Johnson said. “After the storm, one of their friends shared a story of her witnessing Greg literally taking the shoes off of his feet and giving them to a homeless man under a bridge. They’ve done so much for this city, it only makes sense we should help them when they’ve lost everything.”

At Strong, the call to action did not go unanswered. At the time of this interview, Johnson had already raised more than $200 on chocolate sales alone in the office. That’s not counting the more than $500 raised from employees joining forces with Strong Shoutouts.

The Steins’ friends have used this money to buy them basic necessities and things like clothes, water filtration systems, and a satellite telephone. With the islands not expected to have electricity for months, these things will be invaluable. The family plans to return this Saturday to assess the damage, reunite with their dog, and start rebuilding their lives.

How to Contribute

If the story of the Steins has made you want to help, there are a few different options.

  • Come to Rojo on Thursday, Oct. 12 when 10 percent of all sales will go to the Birmingham Loves the Steins fund. Bonus: Margaritas are $1 off all night!
  • Make a donation to the Support for the Steins YouCaring fundraiser site.
  • Buy a chocolate bar from Emily. Since the bars were donated, all of the $3 price goes directly to the Steins.

It’s hard to imagine the challenge of recovering from a disaster like this. But with wonderful friends and the stellar support Strong has shown, we know the Steins will make it through.

5 thoughts on “A Chocolatier with a Cause”

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