Six days, 25,600 meals. That’s the number of plates Operation BBQ Relief dished out to victims of the tornado that hit Washington, Ill., on Nov. 17, killing seven and destroying more than 2,400 homes. Barbecue enthusiasts-turned volunteers assist OBR by serving up comfort in times of disaster.
“We love people. We love barbecue. It’s the best of both worlds to help others,” says Jon Orr, OBR board of directors secretary. And they’ve managed to help people across the country, deploying 17 times in 18 states.
It all started after the Joplin, Mo., tornado in May 2011. Kansas City-based barbecuers responded to the catastrophic event, driving in, setting up smokers and fixing up barbecue for crowds of locals and first responders. The idea was born. Word spread along the competitive barbecuing circuit, and soon enthusiasts from around the country joined in.
From tornados to floods, hurricanes to wildfires, OBR monitors and responds to situations where help is needed. They cooked up 16,000 meals after the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas, earlier this year and 100,200 in New Jersey and New York after Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
John Wheeler made the 10-hour drive from Southaven, Miss., to help run the recent operation in Illinois. The restaurateur packed up a small camper and hit the road, making sure to include his son in the efforts, even pulling him out of school to go along. “I wanted to teach him what it’s about to help people, not just our community,” Wheeler says.
With such a large network, the group relies on social media to organize volunteers. “Without Facebook and Twitter, I often wonder how we could make this happen,” Orr says.
OBR hit a milestone 500,000 meals on Nov. 23. With that many meals under their belt, the group looks forward to a third year of sharing barbecue with those who need it most. “The last thing they need to worry about is a hot meal,” Orr says.