By Madison Darbyshire
When a bomb went off in a dumpster on Sept. 17 at 8:30 pm in Chelsea, police, firefighters, and ambulances rushed to the scene.
Among the first responders was the Detectives Endowment Association canteen truck, which arrived by 4 a.m. with coffee and hot breakfast sandwiches for the servicemen and women who spent the night securing the area. The DEA, the largest detective union in New York, funds the truck, which provides food without cost to officers on the scene. In charge of provisions is Ron Doda, a retired detective Sergeant in Queens whose family business, Gold Shield Catering, stocks and operates the canteen.
“The guys are stuck there sometimes for twelve, thirteen hours,” said Ed Lacey, a partner in Gold Shield Catering and Mr. Doda’s brother-in-law. “It’s expensive to keep buying meals so we try to give them something.”
The work of the DEA canteen truck extends beyond simply feeding officers. “When business or people bring you food, you feel appreciated,” said Doda. “The guys get a sense of relief when they see you there.”
In a time of intense public scrutiny, some police officers feel like the communities they are sworn to protect have turned against them. For many who remember the way the city treated the police after September 11th, the fall in public esteem hits harder. “During 9/11, we really felt like the public surrounding the area were extremely appreciative to have the police there,” said Doda.
“This is a very difficult time to be in law enforcement,” said Michael Palladino, the DEA union president. “When cops feel like they’re out there all alone it is important for them to be able to look over their shoulder and feel like their union is behind them. Food is one of the ways we show support.”
The DEA canteen truck provides meals to police officers at a number of scheduled events during the year, like parades where police both march in and work security. But the truck also responds to unscheduled events—natural disasters, funerals, train derailments, and crime scenes — some of which, though rare, involve the murder of a fellow officer, said Palladino.
The truck has responded to every major police crisis across New York City, from two Manhattan cranes collapsing earlier this year, to a gas explosion in East Harlem in 2014, to Hurricane Sandy in Rockaway Beach and Staten Island in late 2012.
Of all the days working the canteen, “Sandy was the hardest,” said Lacey. “To see people with so much going on in their lives; they were coming up to the truck and saying thank you for a meal, and a lot of their homes were gone. The food was just for cops but we invited everyone to eat.”
The night of the September 11th terrorist attacks, the canteen went down to Ground Zero with a truckload of pastries donated by Glenn Wayne Bakery in Bohemia, N.Y., said Doda. “I drove the truck down there with empty coffee jugs and bottles of purified water. We went and made coffee and starting feeding the guys on the pile,” he said. “That’s what they called it, the pile.”
Doda and Lacey were joined at Ground Zero by numerous retired servicemen who wanted to volunteer at the canteen. “So many people came out of retirement to help,” said Doda. The men would stay as long as they could, working in shifts, before returning home to rest. We’re always cops.”
The work of responding to a police crisis can be grueling. “Food work and truck work and responding to a disaster, there is sometimes a lot of dirt involved. It’s tough. It’s not all glory,” said Doda.
Gold Shield Catering has a long history of feeding police officers. “I always cooked for the cops,” said Doda. Food became the family business in 1966, when Doda’s father opened a delicatessen in Rockaway Beach. Doda’s wife Eileen, the owner of Gold Shield Catering, started making trays of baked ziti or sausage, peppers, and onions for precinct club parties, and “guys would eat it up,” said Doda. Soon, his wife’s cooking for the force turned into a successful side job. “It was nice to have a business to make a little extra. Police back in the day, we didn’t make a lot of money,” he said.
Now Doda’s Gold Shield Catering has grown into a full-service catering operation that feeds people all over New York City and Long Island.
Lacey says the truck is both a way to keep busy in retirement, and to stay involved with the force he dedicated his career to. Working the truck, “as a retired cop, it gives you a connection with the cops today. They find it funny that I retired before most of them were alive.”
For Doda, the joy comes from seeing the servicemen and women he feeds enjoying themselves, if only for a moment of rest. “The thing you love best of all is the look on someone’s face when they bite in to something, like that guy on the food network—Guy Fieri— the look on his face when he eats like, ‘Oh my God that’s so delicious!’ You put in all the time cooking—they can’t pay you enough to match that feeling.”