PASADENA, Texas — As Harvey's rains ended and Houston began its long slog toward recovery, the distinctive aroma of Cajun cooking wafted over the Pasadena Police Department. 

The sausage po-boys, chicken and pastalaya drew dozens of lawmen and other first responders to a pair of RVs parked outside the station here, where 10 men from Central, La., prepared a full-on feast Wednesday.

The atmosphere, and the unexpectedly cool weather, recalled an early fall tailgate. 

"When we do these onions and (the aroma of) this good Cajun meat gets up in the air, people are coming," said Stephen Ashford, one of the volunteers who arrived in the area about 10 p.m. Tuesday and began cooking eight hours later.

"This isn't a heat-up lasagna plate," Ashford added, speaking over the din of chatter and zydeco music. "This is good Louisiana food we're cooking." 

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The volunteers, representing the Capital Area Law Enforcement Foundation, joined legions of other Louisianians who navigated high waters and a plethora of road closures to assist in a recovery effort that is just beginning.

Like the Cajun Navy, whose boats helped rescue thousands of stranded residents this week, it's a grass-roots effort fueled almost entirely by donations and the compassion of neighbors all too familiar with natural disasters.  

"We know how it feels, and we know the pressure these guys are under," said Ryan Meador, a former Marine and industrial salesman who also made the trip.

"We all went through this with the (Baton Rouge area) floods this exact same time last year," he said. "And if we hadn't gotten help from the outside, we would have been in a bad situation." 

So many volunteers arrived with the Cajun Navy, in fact, that authorities began turning away some of their boats late Tuesday. With that in mind, the crew from Central decided on a culinary contribution. 

"These guys contacted me and said, 'We've got to go do something,' " Ashford said. "And there's never enough food." 

Ashford reached out to colleagues in federal law enforcement earlier this week with an offer to cook for emergency personnel responding to Harvey's unprecedented rainfall and flooding. The police force in Pasadena, which lies in the hard-hit southeastern part of Houston, was the first to bite.

From there, the group created a PayPal account and published a Facebook post soliciting donations, later collecting hundreds of pounds of meat and other supplies before hitting the road. 

Their plan is to stay until Friday cooking for first responders and nearby hospital personnel, serving lunch and another meal at midnight for the night shift.

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On Wednesday, police officers flocked to the food about lunchtime — devouring portions served up in Styrofoam boxes that disappeared almost as quickly as they were prepared.  

"Having a hot plate ready for you is such a morale booster," said Michael Salinas, a Pasadena police officer, who tried the pastalaya and chicken.

Salinas savored the Cajun cuisine, saying he typically relies on beef jerky and Snickers bars to assuage his mid-shift hunger.  

"You don't get something like this normally," he said, "especially during the recovery from a hurricane." 

Follow Jim Mustian on Twitter, @JimMustian.