The past couple of days I have been drifting back a few years and thinking a LOT about BBQ, Community and Service. Although I have been a ‘Public Servant’ in one form or another since I was 15 years old; as a Volunteer Firefighter, Career Paramedic, Transplant Coordinator and Legislative Advocate…I have committed my life to the service of others…ALL of them, not just some.
On April 27th of 2011, a series of Tornadoes ripped through the state of Alabama doing untold damage to much of the state and all of our neighbors down there. I watched the devastation on TV News for a week before it occurred to me that there WAS something that I could do. I reached out to KCBS and was connected to Ron Harwell…a week later and after a number of setbacks…each of which on its own was a perfectly good reason to ‘call it off’…I emptied out my bank accounts and headed south for 18 hours overnight with my smoker in tow and a pickup bed full of empty coolers and supplies. Through what can only be described as a miracle and with the help of MANY others, I had the great fortune to cook 3 days worth of BBQ on Mother’s day weekend for the folks of Morgan County, Alabama with the able and appreciated assistance of Ronnie Harwell…who’s family had been affected by the tornadoes. It was a transformative experience for me and one that I will never forget.
Less than 2 weeks later, a Tornado that none of us will ever forget leveled Joplin, MO. A group of able and willing BBQ folks from all across the country converged in a parking lot in what would become ‘Operation BBQ Relief Joplin’. Despite the fact that I was broke and despite the fact that days later I was set to depart with my daughter on a trip to celebrate her 21st Birthday that we had planned for years…I could NOT get the feeling of ‘paying it forward’ for Ron’s help out of my mind.
Thanks to their willingness to allow me to be a VERY SMALL part of the operation, I was able to fly to KC and drive down to Joplin for a sleepless 28 hour period in which I simply did whatever I could to help. I also watched in amazement as this incredible group of folks built an Operation that cranked out >120,000 FREE BBQ Meals for Residents and Responders. I had the great fortune of being permitted to go into the destroyed neighborhoods and feed those who were picking up whatever small pieces of their lives were left. I saw American Flags on the skeletons of homes and spray paint on the few walls left standing printing out words like “God Is Great”, “Thank God We Are OK” and “God Bless Us”. I saw the most horrific damage that I have ever seen, but through it all…I saw the best in humanity. From the OBR people to the local businesses, First Responders and National Guard, people from across the country came to help their neighbors and it was AMAZING…another transformative experience and one for which I am eternally grateful.
A year later, Central PA…my backyard and in fact, my home…were hit by the worst flooding in our History. Tropical Storm Lee sat on top of us and deluged our Commonwealth for days on end. My neighbors and people from the northern tip to the southern end of PA were suffering. Once again, a newly Incorporated ‘Operation BBQ Relief’ sprang into action. Volunteers from every part of my life and people that I had never met before who are NOW good friends came together in a Sam’s Club parking lot. With the help of the local Volunteer Fire Departments and Governments and many area businesses and people…we cooked meals for 5,000 folks in 3 days and got them out to them as they began the process of cleaning up. Once again the power of BBQ and Community amazed me.
Since that time, Operation BBQ Relief has provided meals for folks in the mid-west, deep south and the East Coast following nearly every major disaster that has hit, most recently Hurricane Sandy. The total FREE BBQ Meal count far exceeds 300,000 for a Non-Profit that has yet to celebrate its second anniversary as a Corporation. My point in telling this story is to remind all of those who read this that during times of need…it IS possible to help…in a number of ways. My adult life has NEVER been about me, it has been about serving others. I HAVE paid a price for it, but will not change…I cannot change because of the people and places I’ve known and been. Next time you get a chance…do something to help another without calling attention to yourself. Do it not because you want publicity or a title…do it because it’s the right thing to do! In fact…if you can, please support Operation BBQ Relief…it IS an amazing organization with a mission that can only REALLY be understood when you see the faces of those that they help! You can visit them online at: www.OperationBBQRelief.org or look them up on FaceBook!
Have a GREAT Friday and Be Good!