From the Heart – February 2020

Feb 17, 2020 | Newsletters

From the Heart

February 2020

Meals served since 2011


Thank You!

Special thanks to our thousands of donors and volunteers that have helped support Operation BBQ Relief since 2011. We are excited to see many of you at the Volunteer Banquet this weekend in Orlando, FL. We appreciate your willingness to further our efforts to connect, inspire, serve, educate, and feed communities far and wide.

Thank you,

Stan Hays and Will Cleaver

Items Needed

Operation BBQ Relief is in need of specialty items that would be greatly appreciated right now.

  • 3/4 ton diesel crew cab pick-up in good condition with low miles that can pull OBR trailers. We are in need of three or four this year.
  • 3/4 ton High Top Sprinter-type extended van. Low miles one needed to help deliver meals on deployments and another for the Always Serving Project traveling the country. We need 2 of these now but looking for more over the next year.
  • 16-24 ft enclosed trailer in good shape with a back ramp to haul supplies and to stage in different parts of the country with non-perishable supplies. This is needed to improve our response time when disaster strikes or when we have an Always Serving Project event in the area and need supplies. We could use three or four of these trailers.
  • We are also looking for two Class A or Class C RVs that could be used when needed for disasters or for The Always Serving Project events where we need a mobile command center but it is not big enough to roll out our Mobile Command Center.

Check your garage! If you have one of these types of vehicles that you don’t need and are looking to donate, contact Operation BBQ Relief at

BBQ Basics – Instilling Friendship and Community Beyond the Basics

By Donnie Paul

I am a retired chief of operations for the Department of Homeland Security. Prior to my injuries that led to early retirement, I worked with FEMA to assist following natural disasters. In September 2019, I saw on Facebook a post that asked if there were any first responders interested in participating with Operation BBQ Relief’s BBQ Basics at the Tri-Cities 9/11 Memorial Climb in Kingsport, TN. I had never heard of Operation BBQ Relief until this day and was intrigued at the opportunity. I heard there was a team that was short of two participants and I thought, “Sure, why not give it a try.” I had never owned a grill or knew how to BBQ. The only time I ever ate a steak was when I ordered it off a menu.

On Day 1 of BBQ Basics, I was immediately impressed by the team at Operation BBQ Relief and their passion for sharing the healing power of BBQ. They dove right in with educating participants on cuts of meat and how to use a smoker and other information I never knew before. I was so impressed and overloaded with new facts and techniques. I was eager to learn and asked a ton of questions. The staff at Operation BBQ Relief was so helpful in answering my questions. They took the time to share their knowledge and always went above and beyond to make sure I gained the skills necessary to serve others on my own.

On Day 2, my team of four strangers competed with other teams and ended up winning 1st place overall. Not bad for a guy that signed up last minute! I was thrilled to take home 1st place but my real victories began after BBQ Basics.

While at BBQ Basics, I met Shannon Vaughan, owner of Bare Bones BBQ Restaurant in Kingsport, TN. Shannon invited me to his restaurant and continued to teach me the BBQ Basics. We quickly became best friends and decided that every 3rd Friday of the month, Shannon and I would cook and delivery food to first responders and veterans. I was so impressed with Operation BBQ Relief that I signed up to become a volunteer and helped feed soldiers in Fort Bragg, NC. I connected with Brian Norfolk, Director of BBQ Basics, to see how I could continue to support this life-changing program. I was asked to join the Operation BBQ Relief team as Assistant Coordinator of BBQ Basics.

When I signed up for BBQ Basics, I never knew the ripple effect it would have on my life and my family’s life. Operation BBQ Relief saved my family’s Thanksgiving. My mom had suffered a stroke in early 2019 and Thanksgiving was always her favorite holiday. Thanksgiving is the one day of the year that all our family members are together and my mom brings out the best dishes. With mom having her stroke, cooking a meal for everyone would have been a huge challenge. BBQ Basics taught me to how to help my mom prepare Thanksgiving dinner. I would have never known how to step in and help her cook. My friendship with Shannon allowed me to borrow food warmers from his restaurant so that my mom could cook at her own pace. Operation BBQ Relief always talks about serving the one hot meal that matters and Thanksgiving was that meal for my family.

With my job with the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA, I’ve seen firsthand what it is like to eat out of a can or a bag following a natural disaster. Operation BBQ Relief provides comfort food by providing good, hot food during the most difficult times. I plan to continue to pay it forward by sharing the healing power of BBQ with my family, community, and country. Thank you to Operation BBQ Relief and all supporters for this life-changing experience.

Volunteer Spotlight

Laurie Polak first got involved with Operation BBQ Relief before it was officially Operation BBQ Relief. As KCBS Master Judges, she and her husband actively read social media having to do with BBQ and quickly learned of the need for monetary support to keep the 2011 Joplin, MO, grassroots relief efforts going. That early involvement grew into both of them taking on volunteer roles within the organization.

Laurie’s first deployment was to Estero, FL, after Hurricane Irma in 2017. From site set-up, prepping foods in both the Sides and Proteins areas, expediting deliveries, and cleaning equipment, her efforts earned her a “Caught Doing Good” coin and the nickname “Energizer Bunny.” A year later, Laurie worked both the Hurricane Florence deployment in North Carolina and the Hurricane Michael deployment in Florida. Focusing on the front-of-house Volunteer Check-In and Expediting tasks, she spent nearly two months of 2018 on deployment helping Operation BBQ Relief provide the healing power of BBQ.

Her efforts throughout 2018 earned her Operation BBQ Relief’s “Rod Cramer Volunteer of the Year Award”. A few short weeks after accepting the award, she was running her first deployment as Site Lead following massive flooding in the midwest.

When not working disaster deployments and non-disaster events, Laurie works behind the scenes, lending her writing expertise to Operation BBQ Relief. For the past year she has been a member of the marketing team, developing social media posts. While deployed for Hurricane Dorian in 2019, she was able to perform training of the new On-Site Volunteer Coordinator role and developed social media videos and posts chronicling our historic international deployment aiding The Bahamas.

Regardless of the task, Laurie ensures it’s done thoroughly and well, offering suggestions for improvement when applicable. Her friendly smile and easy conversational manner make her a natural for ‘front of house’ tasks and for being a personable ambassador of Operation BBQ Relief. We are very fortunate to have Laurie as part of the Operation BBQ Relief family.

10 Reasons to Get Involved with Operation BBQ Relief

  1. It’s good for you! – Volunteering your time for a good cause does wonders for your physical and mental health.
  2. Become more compassionate – Witnessing and understanding the needs of a community will help foster empathy.
  3. Learn new skills – Whether it’s about a specific task or a broader operational focus, you will gain new-found knowledge.
  4. Gain new perspectives – You’ll work alongside people from different backgrounds and perspectives on a daily basis.
  5. Strengthen and build community – We support communities in need by providing “the one hot meal that matters.” It isn’t just a tagline…it’s what we do; it’s what you can be a part of.
  6. We serve those who serve us – Through The Always Serving Project, we provide meals and programs for first responders, veterans, and members of the military.
  7. Build camaraderie and teamwork – We unite people to work toward a common goal…feeding those in need. You’ll be inspired by those you are working alongside and make lifelong friends!
  8. Be a part of the Operation BBQ Relief family – The moment you volunteer and get involved, you will become a part of the growing OBR family.
  9. You can volunteer from home – We have opportunities in many areas such as fundraising, management, marketing, and clerical that can be done from the comforts of your home.
  10. We host events throughout the country – We have served in 28 states and counting.

Sign up to become a volunteer and receive notifications if we will be in a city near you –


Upcoming Events


Feb 21 – 23 – OBR Banquet and Awards
Orlando, Florida
Click here for details

Click Here for other event info
Interested in volunteering for an event, please email for more information.

St. Patrick’s Day T-Shirt

Luckier than a pig in clover!

Pre-order your Operation BBQ Relief St. Patrick’s Day T-shirt by February 26 to receive it in time for St. Patrick’s Day weekend. Order yours today!

Operation BBQ Relief Raffle

Purchase raffle tickets for Operation BBQ Relief items and vacation packages. The drawing will take place on Saturday, February 22 at 6:05 PM Eastern. Buy your tickets at Good luck!

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Corporate Supporters



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Operation BBQ Relief relies solely on volunteers like you. Whether you are a competition BBQ team, caterer, restaurateur or simply an individual or group wanting to help when disaster strikes, we want you to be a part of this rewarding experience in helping people.