Operation BBQ Relief serving more than just BBQ

Veronica Wernicke and Amanda Hagy

In the aftermath of a hurricane like Florence, devastation and destruction take their toll on the community. People can be left without homes, personal items, power, water, food and a sense of hope and comfort.   

Something like a kind smile and a free warm meal can slowly bring back those feelings.  

That’s where Operation BBQ Relief comes in. When Stan Hays, CEO and Co-Founder, and Will Cleaver, Co-Founder, COO and CFO, started this organization seven years ago, following the aftermath of a tornado in Joplin, Missouri, they set out to offer hope and compassion to those affected by natural disasters.   

Their mission statement is simple.  

“Operation BBQ Relief strives to provide compassion and offer hope and friendship to those whose lives have been affected by disasters across the United States. We leverage our expertise in cooking and catering barbecue meals with our ability to quickly mobilize our teams into any area where disaster disrupts and tears apart the lives of Americans.”   

According to their website, since their first deployment back in May 2011, Operation BBQ Relief has assisted 51 communities in 25 states, serving 1,780,375 meals and counting.   

On Sept. 24, Operation BBQ Relief served their two millionth meal and Operation BBQ’s Marketing Manager David Marks got the privilege to personally deliver that meal in the Wilmington community to a more than deserving patron.   

“There’s a man who was saving his neighborhood by taking his neighbors out of their houses as the flood waters were rising. I had given him a hot barbecue meal when he could not do anymore along with a little bit of encouragement,” said Marks. “He later told me that he was spent, and that BBQ meal gave him the energy to go back out there and save more of his neighbors. For me, this represents why we do what we do, and he will be getting that two millionth meal.”  

Since the touch down of Hurricane Florence in the middle of September, Operation BBQ Relief volunteers made deployments from as far as Indiana and Texas to be in Wilmington following the storm. Co-founder Will Cleaver made note of the unique impact Wilmington residents have had on their community, surrounding areas and Operation BBQ relief efforts.   

“It’s been a blessing so many people in the community and the rural county around wanting to give back.” Cleaver said, “We don’t normally get this big of a turnout, even in a major city like Houston. A year ago we didn’t have 450 volunteers turn out and register from the community as Wilmington has. Wilmington is about one-twentieth the size of Houston but we ’ve been doing the same almost kind of numbers in terms of meals as we were in Houston, because the need has been so great.”  

Continuing to give back has been a constant theme for residents of both North Carolina and South Carolina but additionally veteran volunteers looking to continue to lend a hand. Chris and Chris Wilson Jr, a father-son duo that own a BBQ restaurant and commuted from their hometown in Indiana, helped on their third deployment with Operation BBQ for Hurricane Florence.  

Chris Senior said even when he’s not helping with Operation BBQ Relief in other natural disasters, such as a mass flooding in Hammond, Louisiana, the duo said they still look for a way to help.  

“We took our trailer and gave out free pork sandwiches on our own,” they said.  

Chris Wilson Jr also made comment to their living situations on varying deployments with Operation BBQ Relief.  

“It’s been better since we got a camper, but when we were actually in Hammond, Louisiana we drove two hours every day and stayed in a hotel and in Houston we stayed in a parking lot. You do what you have to do…some of these people don’t even have ground to lay on.”   

Both Chris and his son Chris Jr. drove 11 hours to Charlotte, North Carolina and then another 10 hours from Charlotte to Wilmington to be a part of the relief following the recent mass devastation of Hurricane Florence.   

Despite the destruction brought on by natural disasters like Hurricane Florence, there is still a light at the end of the tunnel. Operation BBQ Relief is providing that one hot BBQ meal at a time.   

If you are interested in helping this organization or how to become involved in future relief efforts, please visit their website OperationBBQRelief.org to learn how you can get involved.