MIAMI - When Wilkinson Sejour, owner of Chef Creole, the only Haitian restaurant at the Miami International airport, noticed TSA (Transportation Security Administration) agents were no longer coming in to buy meals, he found it odd and wondered what was going on.
Sejour learned they were federal workers affected by the U.S. government's partial shutdown. The federal security screeners are among hundreds of thousands of federal employees working without pay until President Donald Trump and congressional Democrats resolve a political dispute over construction of a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.
So Sejour devised a plan to show his appreciation.
"We've been at the airport for four months now, and they support us every day," he told VOA Creole. "I thought if they were there since the beginning and helped me make money, now that they're having problems, I have to thank them for their support and try to help them."
The Chef Creole restaurant owner decided to offer free meals for a week — lunch and dinner — for TSA agents, customs inspectors and other federal employees working at the airport. They lined up to partake in the offerings, or sent a colleague to get meals for agents who were too busy to walk over to the restaurant.
"Food is important, more important than money — when you have food you're OK," Sejour noted.
So far, Chef Creole has distributed 1,400 free meals. Sejour said he doesn't have a lot of resources. He said he worried about how he was going to afford to give out free food. But he had faith.
"The first day we gave out free meals, people saw and they offered to help, too. They said, 'Chef, here are five cases of chicken, 50 pounds of shrimp, two cases of ribs — you don't have to publicize it' — that's how it's done. You have to have faith," Sejour told VOA Creole.
What has been the reaction among the lucky recipients? Gratitude.
"God bless you brother, no other restaurant in airport is doing what u are doing, all the money we spend in those restaurants and not one has offered to help tsa during a time like this, much respect to you brother we appreciate you, God bless," @im_so_handsome commented on Chef Creole's Instagram page.
"We are humbled by your generosity. You deserve every blessing you receive and then some," commented @stevieb305.
The gratitude was echoed by members of the Haitian community who reacted to a post about Chef Creole's efforts on VOA Kreyol's Instagram page.
"Good job. Kindness going around," @farahfaroul commented.
"Keep up the good work you're doing, you'll be rewarded, God is with you," @maranata_christ_revien commented in Creole.
On Thursday, Haitian recording label Abstract Records gave Sejour a check for $500 to help pay for his efforts.
"That will help me buy more supplies, because I promised I would feed them for a week," Sejour said.
Asked what motivates him, Sejour said he was inspired by the spirit of Haiti's independence.
"Remember, we are Haitians — and when we were the first to win our independence, all of South America came to us for help, so it's in our blood to help our neighbors — not just our brothers and sisters."
Sejour added that he finds pleasure in feeding people.
"What makes me happy is when you look in the person's eyes — it's just a plate of food — but it makes them happy," he said.
Click here for related VOA Creole video.