In 2011 a massive tornado hit Joplin, Missouri, killing nearly 160 people and injuring hundreds more. As Stan Hays watched the devastation wreak havoc on the news he knew he had to help. “We’re here in Kansas City about 2 ½ hours away from the disaster. We felt compelled to go help the community so we rallied the BBQ community together to meet us down there. We had some companies like Sam’s Club who agreed to give us a lot of the food,” recalls Stan.
The team thought they would head down to Joplin for 4 to 5 days and serve 4,000 to 5,000 meals to help out. It turns out they were there for 11 days. For their first lunch alone they served 4,000 to 5,000 meals and cooked every bit of food that was donated to them. They had to go back to Sam’s Club to ask for more food. They had to rally the BBQ community to help with donations. In the 11 days the group was there they ended up serving over 120,000 meals from a parking lot.
“We had several companies step up to the plate—Tyson donated items we could cook quickly, like bratwurst and a poultry company named OK Foods out of Arkansas also helped,” shares Stan. Everyone was impressed how fast they were able to mobilize and how the BBQ community pulled together. The victims themselves, after experiencing days without power or water, were so grateful to be able to have a hot meal.
Operation BBQ Relief operates with surgical precision—they swoop into a crisis to help the local population then pack up to leave just as the Salvation Army and Red Cross arrive, and local civic groups and churches have had time to get their bearings. They view themselves as a mere stop gap, preferring to let these organizations help in the longer-term as the community rebuilds itself.
After helping out with their first disaster in Joplin, Stan and two other founders—Jeff Stith and Will Cleaver—knew they had to continue their mission. They quickly filed to become a non-profit organization, a painful process that took 8 long months. Today, the team has on board a COO, David Marks, and a Chief Volunteer Officer, Dana Reed. They have over 2,700 volunteers and have served over 644,839 meals since they started in 2011.
EQUIPMENT SUITED FOR DISASTERS
OBR has 11 trailers of various sizes that help them deal with disasters and different trailers are deployed depending on the size of the disaster. Sometimes for disasters that are further away, it’s more cost-effective to be able to use the equipment of some of the local BBQ teams and fly people to help out instead.
For insulated food holding transport, Cambro is the equipment of choice. They have various electric as well as non-electric carriers and carts that help efficiently and safely hold, store and transport BBQ from their base to satellite feeding locations. Often times they discover neighborhoods and communities unable to come to them for food because they are afraid of looters or are afraid they will not be able to get back into their homes if they do. So the crew at OBR comes out to them with packaged meals for distribution.
“We work with the Salvation Army in Dallas where they’ll come by with their top-loading Cambros with liners. We have 8 or 10 different Cambros of our own which we have spread out at various locations. With the heavy duty liners we just pour in the pulled pork and fold over the top. It works so great,” Stan shares.
To assist with the meat in the smokers—4,500 to 5,000 lbs, OBR also relies on Cambro’s electric carts—the UPCH800 and UPCH1600 to keep food held safely before serving. Food is coming off the smokers and pulled as fast as they can get it out the door. When they get behind they always try to prepare pork loins which cook quickly, bratwursts, hot dogs and sausages. Pork and chicken are the 2 most cost-effective foods to serve but “Whenever there is beef donated we cook that up for the first responders—chopped brisket or ribs—for the policemen, firemen, utility line workers working 24 hrs a day to restore power. Those are the real heroes working round the clock to maintain order and make sure people don’t get looted,” states Stan.
“Serving hot meals in a time of need is what we do! Our Cambro’s help us ensure we keep the food hot and safe. They are key pieces of equipment when out on a disaster deployment.”
Stan Hayes, Co-Founder and CEO
THE PSYCHOLOGY OF BBQ
“With Hurricane Sandy we’re going into neighborhoods 2 or 3 days afterwards where these people haven’t had a hot meal in 4 or 5 days, no power, no heat. So there’s a lot of appreciation for a hot meal. We didn’t think of this when we started. We just wanted to go help. But what we learned is that BBQ is a comfort food. We’ve had doctors and psychologists who have told us that during disasters, people’s senses are so much more heightened that giving them a hot BBQ meal really changes their emotion so that the first thing they think about is not that their house is gone but they think of the last BBQ they had at their house with their family and friends or one that they went to. BBQ, even if for a few minutes, brings them to a safe place—it gets them away from the situation that they’re in and it reminds them of something good, something positive,” shares Stan.
SERVANT LEADERSHIP FROM BBQ RELIEF
At these disasters, people often come up to hug and thank Stan and his group of volunteers. But Stan shies away from all the personal attention: ”I’m just doing what I know how to do–using the talent for BBQ that I have to help people. We really don’t know what to say—you’re thanking us for a hot meal and all we did was pull a pork butt…these are things we can do in our sleep. But at the end of the day this is the reason we do it.”
He continues, “I’ve walked away from Joplin with a different perspective on life I truly believe. Before that day I never thought about this kind of servant leadership—as something I thought I would really be doing at age 45. For the people in our group and the volunteers, almost every one of them has told me ‘Man, it changed my life. It was unexpected.’”
PUBLICITY GOES A LONG WAY
Although Stan doesn’t relish getting personal recognition for his work, he was lucky enough this past year to get publicity for OBR on Food Network by competing on Chopped. He shares, “Even though I lost on the dessert round to an amazing chef, Angie Mar, in the finale to the tune of $50,000, they talked more about OBR and the organization in the 2 shows I was in than I could have paid $50,000 to get. I also got to Skype twice with Sam Champion (famous national weather anchor) this past year on deployments to tell him and people out there what we do. So we’ve had some good publicity to help the brand.”
OBR also is fortunate enough to work with well-known people in BBQ—either enthusiasts or competitors who in real life own large companies and have helped promote the organization. But help and money are always needed to support the organization’s growth so that they can continue to carry out their mission and start a training and certification program this year for Site Coordinators, Kitchen Managers and volunteers alike. (Stan describes it as a curriculum pulled from FEMA courses, ServSafe training and their standard operating procedures.) They also hold various fundraisers throughout the year but need to constantly try to line up money to stay afloat for the following year.
“People don’t understand that even before the vehicles/trailers leave Kansas City or Memphis we have about $11,000 to $12,000 just in insurance that we pay annually. We have a warehouse in Kansas City that’s our single largest expense. I’d like to find a donor to give us the money to buy it because it’s a great location and the cost of the building is cheaper than what’s around or that I can build it for.”
A PERSONAL SACRIFICE SO WORTH IT AT THE END OF THE DAY
Stan and his team all have day jobs—between working in the insurance industry, running a chain of Famous Dave’s BBQ, owning their own start-up company or serving as a critical care nurse. They all live in different parts of the country and come together to rally the troops whenever disasters strike. They take personal time off and vacation days to run OBR. On a personal level they barely even have time to compete in the very BBQ competitions that brought them all together. However, at the end of the day it’s all worth it.
“It’s not the number of meals we serve, but the hugs, the thank you’s, the tears, knowing that you made a difference to somebody. That’s the part that changed my perspective on things. I’ve met people who have lost loved ones. I’ve sat there and held them and cried with them. To me when it’s said and done I don’t need anything more than that. I’m not looking for personal recognition, but rather would prefer some recognition for the brand,” shares Stan.