There was not a dry eye in the house as the spontaneous and generous donations came rolling in during the final night of the National Barbecue Association convention.
A little background: We met Will Cleaver, Stan Hays, and Jeff Stith from Operation BBQ Relief at the 2012 NBBQA Convention in San Diego. Operation BBQ Relief is 501c3 not-for-profit disaster relief organization that provides hot, nutritious meals to those in need after a natural disaster. In only 21 months since their founding, OBR has served 311,200 meals in 14 states after such disasters as the Joplin tornado, Hurricane Isaac, Super Storm Sandy, the Colorado wildfires, and more.
While we were unable to travel to the Joplin tornado site, we were so impressed with their mission and we’ve tried to support each deployment with money and dry rub. We’ve also solicited generous donations from our preferred purveyors, notably Townsend Spice and Wichita Packing. Little did we know that five days after meeting in person, the OBR guys would be right in our backyard serving first responders, volunteers, and victims of the devastating Harrisburg, Illinois tornado.
During that time we were able to loan them equipment, cook some of the side dishes and barbecue in our restaurants, and more importantly, work side by side to prepare and serve the food. That project remains one of the most heart-wrenching and heartwarming activities in which we’ve been involved.
We wanted to honor and recognize the group during the convention and we hoped our gift would inspire others to give during the year as the need arises. I’m not sure quite what I said as I presented the check, but my voice cracked a bit as I choked back tears. I don’t think Jon Orr, Operation BBQ Relief secretary, will mind me sharing that he could barely speak through his own tears and I saw others in the crowd wiping their eyes as well.
Little did we anticipate the domino effect set into motion. Our new friend and first-time conference attendee Frank Ostini, pitmaster and winemaker from The Hitching Post II was so moved that he came over and whispered in my ear that he wanted to donate. More first-timers, Sonny’s boys Rich Lucy, Scott Frantz, and Bryan Smith, called their CEO, Bob Yarmuth, and woke him up, asking for funds. Jamie Doherty, Chris Doherty, and David Doherty from BBQ Feast in Ontario approached me next. “We don’t have natural disasters in Canada,” they said. “But we want to help our neighbors to the south.”
Steven Baum, a Detroit-area Famous Dave’s owner, solicited a group donation from Brad Orrison, Craig Kimmel, Scott Shugars, DennyMike Sherman, and Famous Dave Anderson himself. More tears as David Haskett came up and pressed a roll of bills in my hand and said, “We don’t have much, but we want you to have this.” Gregg Snyder won a Yeti cooler during the auction and he donated that to the cause. David Dunn approached the stage, checkbook in hand, just as we were winding up the evening. And finally, when George Newsom won the Meadowcreek pit raffle, valued at $6,500, he took the microphone and said, “In the spirit of the generosity demonstrated this evening, I’m donating this to Operation BBQ Relief ….” Then tears really began to flow.
After the event I went downstairs and discovered Joe Duncan of Baker’s Ribs at the bar. “Where were you?” I joked. “I needed you to give some money upstairs!” He found a check and made a generous donation as well.
The grand total for the evening’s donations was $21,650.
I’m pretty sure you’ll see more coverage of this monumental evening in the April National Barbecue News, the industry newspaper that’s delivered monthly if you’re an NBBQA member. If you’re not a member and would like to join, please click here. If you’d like to simply subscribe to the newspaper, please click here.
To each and every one of you, from the bottom of our hearts, THANK YOU. We have never been prouder to be part of the barbecue community. And I hope everyone reading this will be inspired to PARTICIPATE and GIVE. Become a fan on the Operation BBQ Relief Facebook page and when you see that they are deploying to a disaster area, volunteer onsite or send cash, dry rub, barbecue sauce, or meat. Encourage your vendors to donate as well. No gift is too small.
Barbecue is comfort food and it soothes the soul. The act of cooking for one another and providing nourishment in times of trouble is the most basic and tender way to care for another human being. When you provide resources to Operation BBQ Relief you will receive far more than you can ever give. Please support this fine work. You just never know when they may need to show up right in your own backyard.