Member Highlight: Stephanie Morales’ Crew Feeding First Responders
In mid-March of this year productions across the country were suspended in response to the Covid-19 outbreak. As film workers everywhere went home to shelter in place we all realized that our industry might be facing an extended period without employment; no one knew what to expect next.
Local 479 member and long-time Craft Services Key, Stephanie Morales, soon grew restless at home, feeling that there ought to be something that she could be doing to assist her community in the midst of this crisis. One day she realized that she still had her Local 479 Vacation check in her wallet and thought to herself, “I’ve got to do something!”
As the youngest of 10 kids, Stephanie recalled the halfway house that her mother had started for recently released prisoners in Nashville, Tennessee, and how much of a difference it had made in the lives of many of those people. “I could feel my mother in me,” Stephanie explained – and that’s when she decided to begin helping the first responders and medical personnel in her own neighborhood of Pine Lake.
As Craft Service Key on the third season of the soap opera reboot “Dynasty”, Stephanie was accustomed to hectic schedules and feeding a lot of people working on the go – her skills and her equipment well suited for making a difference in her community.
Stephanie reached out to Pine Lake’s Mayor Melanie Hammet with her idea and Mayor Hammet took the ball and ran with it, assisting Stephanie with securing the correct permits to get her up and running. Meanwhile, members of Teamsters Local 728 moved Stephanie’s trailer from the stages at Eagle Rock out to the Pine Lake Police Department Headquarters.
By March 30th Stephanie was in action, providing free meals to Pine Lake’s police officers and other front-line workers whose jobs require them to continue working while the rest of the state did their job by sheltering in place. On that first day Stephanie fed about 25 people.
In the background, Local 479 set medics including Lori Thompson, Greg Chester, and Lee Burkes began spreading news of Stephanie’s operation through their network of first responders. It didn’t take long for the firemen to begin showing up.
Not long after, motorcycle cops started showing up, a few of them recognizing Stephanie’s voice and reconnecting with her from when she worked on commercials, long before Georgia’s film tax incentive transformed our state into one of the busiest production centers in the world.
Chief of Police Sarai Y’hudah-Green has been a big supporter of Stepanie and her crew, which is easy to understand when you realize that they were soon feeding hundreds of people each day.
By then Stephanie’s original seed money had long been used up, so they started a GoFundMe page to keep the project going.
Many people don’t realize that first responders have new, unexpected restrictions on their eating habits – they can no longer eat in public, and due to work hours that exceed even the longest of normal shoot days, most cannot find the time to prepare meals at home – for example, firefighters from DeKalb County’s Company 24 are working 24 hour shifts even as their budgets have been reduced.
On any given day at Stephanie’s trailer you can see police and firefighters from Gwinnett and DeKalb Counties, ambulance crews, jail workers, and postal employees from the surrounding area. Even sanitation workers have joined in, their role in maintaining order appreciated during this time of crisis – Stephanie laughs when describing how the sanitation workers were excited about “getting to eat with the cops”.
She goes on to explain that it has been a time of high stress for these first responders. Domestic calls have taken on added danger, as there seem to be more drugs and alcohol involved, and children as well, since schools are out.
The movie catering trailer has become a place of safety for these men and women, a place of security in the midst of the chaos. Officers have remarked that they often receive more information while eating a cheeseburger near the trailer than they do when they have meetings, and in some cases lunch time has become a time for meetings.
For Stephanie it has been a truly rewarding experience, filled with love and appreciation – and some nostalgic flashbacks.
She bought her first craft service truck back in 1999 – it was just a box truck, and inside she would cobble together hot dishes on an old Sears electric range. Back then, Atlanta crews were happy just to get hot pizza rolls. These days, crews have muchhigher expectations.
Like those early film crews, first responders are simply grateful to have a warm meal.
“One of the sanitation workers drove 30 miles just to get some banana pudding. He was so appreciative,” she recalls, thinking about the workers pulling 24 hour shifts. When she is able she sends them off with an additional meal, for later – even tucking in some Reese’s Pieces as treats.
Stephanie is quick to say that she could not have done any of thiswithout her crew of Keyon Staples and Jen Jesse, also members of IATSE Local 479.
With her entire crew wearing masks and gloves, Stephanie works to fill the orders that Jen sends from outside the trailer. Grillmaster Keyon works alongside of Stephanie inside the trailer, which boasts a brand new commercial grade stainless steel sanitary kitchen. She is clearly proud that they can provide a top shelf experience to the men and women outside.
Stephanie’s classic menu items include:
Crowd Pleaser – a 100% all-beef double-bacon cheeseburger
Social Distance Dog – a hot dog with chili, cheese, onion and jalapeño
Georgia Boy Sausage – a locally-sourced smoked sausage with onions
“Everything must be done from a distance.”
[photo in mask]
“We can’t hug. We are all wearing masks. They can’t even see your smiles. You have to smile with your eyes. They blow kisses. There is hand waving. A lot of them tap their hearts and point or wave to send their love. There are no bad feelings, no expectations.”
Stephanie says that she owes DeKalb County District 4 Commissioner Steve Bradshaw a big hug when this is all over. Bradshaw recently honored Stephanie as an “Angel in Pine Lake” for her humanitarian support during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Once it is finally safe again, there will undoubtedly be hundreds of hugs to be shared.
For Stephanie there is nothing but appreciation to go around, from those who have contributed to the GoFundMe page to those who have donated to the cause, like William “Bubba” Toms of Ferrellgas, who kept the grills running with donated propane.
As Stephanie says, “We all really need to come together right now. This isn’t a joke. It’s not 911 where it’s one situation and then it’s over. This is a continuing situation. We need to be friendly. This is a game changer, and there are no guarantees.”
Like Mother, like Daughter, there are helpers everywhere.
The members of IATSE Local 479 are immensely proud of members like Stephanie, Keyon, and Jen – and of our first responders and medical personnel who remind us of what’s really important in this world. We can’t wait to get back to work to bring you new movies and new seasons of your favorite shows. We are in this together.
During this time of difficulty, we would like to bring you as many of these types of good news stories as possible. If you know of a Local 479 member that is doing good in their community, please reach out to Drew Duncan, Communications Director, via email to share the story.