HATTIESBURG -- The kitchen was a firehouse driveway. The chefs all have day jobs -- marine patrol officers with the state Department of Marine Resources.
The attire was disaster casual. The patrons were mostly first responders from the Hattiesburg area. The tables were the hoods of mud-spattered pickups under a sky that threatened to open up at any moment.
But tornado cleanup volunteers didn't seem to mind -- they'd come Saturday for the Coast seafood cooked and served by a dozen or so volunteers from the DMR at the Hattiesburg fire station on Main Street.
"This is the best eatin' we've had in a while," said Jerry Montgomery, a contract worker monitoring the cleanup for the city.
It took about two weeks to organize the trip and get donations of food and supplies from Coast businesses, said interim DMR Director Danny Guice. And at least one volunteer who made the trip doesn't work for the DMR.
Chief Walter Chataginer, chief of the DMR patrol, said it was an easy decision for the volunteers, most of whom, he said, normally would be spending a day off with their families.
"We've had our share of tragedies on the Coast, and devastation, and people always come down to help us," he said. "A lot of people don't take into account these first responders -- firemen, policemen, AMR, medical, search and rescue people, they don't get to stop and eat lunch."
Many at the makeshift mess hall ate on their feet and were finished and gone in minutes.
Capt. Chris Bolton of the Forrest County Sheriff's office was one.
"It's good, it's good," he said. "It's some of the best."
Although the feast was organized for fellow first responders, no one was turned away. Volunteers are swarming the city, parts of which are still in a shambles from the Feb. 10 tornado.
There was a social work class from the University of Mississippi-DeSoto in South Haven, which was in town helping FEMA.
"We've been walking through neighborhoods, asking people to register for FEMA. If they wanted to talk, they could talk," said Angie Teasley, a junior. "Whatever they needed done."
Along the way, they've seen an impressive volunteer effort.
"We've run into a lot of volunteer groups, so it's real interesting to see how many people are coming from so far away and different walks of life to help these people," said Emily Norton, a senior.
Linda Montgomery, the administrative assistant to the Hattiesburg fire chief, was on the phone trying to round up hungry people and make sure every volunteer had a chance to eat.
"This is a wonderful thing that the Marine Resources and Marine Patrol came down to feed the first responders and volunteers," she said. "This is a way to show a thank-you to everyone by coming and feeding them and telling them they're doing a wonderful job."