Wallingford chef uses cooking skills to collect donations for Puerto Rico

A Wallingford chef is using his restaurant & his cooking skills to collect donations for Puerto Rico following Maria. (WFSB)

As Puerto Rico's long recovery following Hurricane Maria continues, a Connecticut chef is doing his part and plenty are pitching in to help.

Efrain Nieves, who is the owner of Tata's Restaurant, said he knows exactly what folks in Puerto Rico are feeling right now. He said that is because he lived through it.

In fact, just a week after Hurricane Hugo hit in 1989, his mother sent him to live in the United States. It's why he's giving back with a big help from his Wallingford community.

Nieves was hard at work feeding the lunchtime crowd inside his restaurant on Center Street on Wednesday. While he serves up a taste of an island, he knows so well, he can't help, but think about his family that still calls Puerto Rico home.

"My mother is there, my stepdad is there, my cousins, uncles, nephews, nieces, lots of folks,” Nieves said. "My mother's house is flooded, inside and out, all done."

Knowing what so many are going through following Hurricane Maria, Nieves decided to act.

"After seeing everybody suffering over there, no food, no water, no lights, no phones, I needed to do something,” Nieves said.

Nieves said he decided to start a collection while doing what he does best, cooking.

"I did a buffet as a show of appreciation for those who took their time to bring something,” Nieves said.

On Tuesday, he even offered a free lunch to anyone who donated and in just five hours, boy did they donate nonperishable items.

Cases of bottled water and even a generator were dropped off at Tata's Restaurant.

Nieves said he's partnering with a church in New Haven that will bring the items down to Bridgeport, and then ship them to Puerto Rico.

"If they have time and they can donate, anything, one dollar, one penny, a can of tuna, something, to help those in need,” Nieves said.

So far, that help has been overwhelming and for that Nieves said he's so grateful.

"The community has been great, I said it when I first hit Wallingford 13-14 years ago, it was my home away from home,” Nieves said. “Here 14 years later, people have supported me, have come and shown the love."

Nieves said this is just a start and he plans on doing additional fundraisers throughout the month. The additional fundraisers could be at his restaurant or he could possibly take his food truck on the road.

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