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Operation BBQ (by Jeff Johnson)

As most of you know on Sunday, May 22, 2011 a devastating EF5 tornado hit Joplin, Missouri. As I write this on Tuesday, May 31 the death toll is listed as 139 people of which 123 identities have been confirmed.  There are ten still unaccounted for.

On Monday, May 23 two Kansas City Barbeque competition cooks began to talk about what could be done to assist the displaced people of Joplin. One of these cooks works for Farmers Insurance; he contacted them to see about a partnership in the relief effort. At the same time, Kookers Kare which is part of KCBS (Kansas City Barbeque Society) came on board to help with fund raising and support. By Monday night cookers had been contacted and a location had been obtained by Farmers Insurance for the group to set up camp. Cookers began to arrive on Monday evening and by Tuesday the first food was being served to the displaced residents of Joplin. More cookers arrived as the week progressed and by Wednesday operations were in full swing.

Many corporations donated to the cause and I will not even try to list them all in this review, but I do want to mention a few. As of today, May 31 Sams Club has donated a little over 11 thousand pounds of pork butts as well as thousands of dollars in other supplies. OK Farms out of Ft. Smith, AR sent 50,000 pounds of chicken as well as a large cooker and the staff to assist. Farmers Insurance also helped by supplying additional staff and a tent area for serving. Stubbs provided BBQ sauce and many other companies and individuals donated countless other supplies. Sams Club provided the group with a refrigerated truck to use as a walk-in cooler as well as a trailer for storing dry goods.

With corporate donations plus private donations through Kookers Kare for the Operation BBQ Relief for Joplin group; when I left on Tuesday night over 125,000 meals had been served and plans were to continue cooking through Friday, June 3.

A facebook page was created for “Operation BBQ Relief for Joplin” to keep people updated and as a way for people to donate via Kookers Kare (http://kookerskare.com/).  As of today donations from this source have exceeded $10,000. I have lost track of how many different cooks and volunteers showed up.  I definitely can’t remember all the names but there were many and every one deserves our thanks.

Now with the background in place, I want to tell you a little about why we were there. The people and town of Joplin have been devastated.  As we had the privilege to serve them, they each had a story. In the time I spent there, we heard many of these stories from those directly affected as well as the first responders, rescue searchers and law enforcement agents.  Words cannot express how much these people and their stories touched each and every one of us with Operation BBQ Relief for Joplin.

On one of the first days there a family came in asking for food. Their child was dressed in a Halloween costume because that was all they could find for him to wear. On another occasion I noticed a small boy going through the serving line wearing black and purple rain boots and a pair of shorts he had obviously slept in the night of the storm. It was at this point that I realized I had brought more clothes with me for this relief effort than many of these families still owned.

There was a young lady named Buffie who showed up at our camp early on. She was from the area but had light damage to her house. She knew the area well and wanted to know if she could have food to take to people she knew were without. She ended up being our guide to the areas with the most need. Even though many of her friends and family lost their homes and in some cases, their lives, she wanted to serve with us to feed as many of the residents as possible.

As late as Thursday I had people hug me and tell me this was the first meal they had had since the storm. Many told me they had been eating canned goods when they could find something to open it with.

The last two stories I will share tore my heart out. I hope I can tell them in a way that makes you understand how lucky most of us are.

I mentioned Buffie earlier. A good friend of hers was headed home from his son’s high school graduation when they were caught in the storm. His son was sucked out of the car’s sunroof while he tried to hold his son’s legs to keep it from happening.

On Monday a gentleman came up to me asking if I knew where there was a tire shop. As I helped him with this issue I noticed his right hand was bandaged. When I asked him what happened he told me that as he and his wife ran for a storm shelter a large piece of steel flew through the air and was about to hit his wife in the head.  He stuck his hand out and stopped it. I told him how sorry I was and how awful that was.  He told me that was nothing. This man told me how lucky he and his wife were to be alive. Then he told me that his best friend’s granddaughter had been trying to get to safety with her baby when the tornado ripped the baby out of her arms and left his granddaughter standing there.

These are just a few of the stories that were told to us by the people of Joplin. There are many many more and I hope you get a chance to hear them all. I can not tell you what an honor it has been to serve the people of Joplin. May God bless each and every one of residents as well as the volunteers.