Operation BBQ Relief (OBR), a Kansas-based non-profit organization that mobilizes to areas affected by natural disasters, wrapped up its longest deployment Monday, after serving more than 320,000 meals over 18 days in Wilmington.
The organization, which while in Wilmington served its 2 millionth meal since 2011 on Sept. 24, came about as a collective response to the aftermath of the tornadoes that destroyed much of Joplin, Missouri, in May 2011. Volunteers from competition barbecue teams from eight states gathered to help feed displaced families, as well as police, fire, National Guard and emergency personnel.
During that first effort, 120,000 meals were served over 13 days, with food being delivered to shelters, hospitals, senior living communities and the Humane Society. Volunteers loaded food into vehicles and delivered it directly to families in the impacted areas.
Today, officials say the operation runs like a well-oiled machine, yet they also said they learn something new about how to improve the system each time they deploy. And they’re quick to credit the hundreds of volunteers that show up to help, saying that without their support the effort would not be possible.
OBR co-founder Stan Hayes, who was a CNN Hero of the Year Top 10 finalist when the award was giving to Amy Wright of Wilmington-based Bitty & Beau’s Coffee
, said he had hoped to visit the coffee shop under better circumstances, but knows now why Bitty & Beau’s has been so successful.
“When we began this deployment we had only 500 registered volunteers from the Carolinas, Georgia, Virginia and Tennessee,” Hayes said. “Now we have over 500 with Wilmington addresses alone, and that’s not counting all the volunteers from the surrounding counties. The community here has so much heart.”
Prior to the storm making landfall, OBR staged its operation in Charlotte, having been granted space at Charlotte Motor Speedway to finalize plans and determine the best place to set up operations following the storm.
From their base in the lot in the former Kmart parking lot adjacent to Chili’s on South College Road, the organization worked closely with the Emergency Operations Center to coordinate deliveries of food and direct volunteers as to how they could help. While some individual meals were provided on site, the majority of the meals were delivered with the help of the Salvation Army.
“There’s been a tremendous need here in the wake of Florence and also an incredible amount of support from the community,” Hayes said. “The time, heart and effort of the volunteers has been amazing.”
In a Facebook post Sept. 30, Hayes asked followers to continue to support the Wilmington area in any way possible.
To learn more about Operation BBQ Relief, visit the organization's website.
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