From the Heart – October 2019

Oct 11, 2019 | Newsletters

From the Heart

October 2019

Meals served since 2011

Serving the One Hot Meal that Matters
Connect, Inspire, Serve, Educate and Feed Those in Need


We’d like to take this opportunity to celebrate a couple historic milestones that OBR achieved during our Hurricane Dorian relief efforts.

First, this was our first international relief effort! We set up our cook site in Florida at the Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport and airlifted our dry-goods and hot meals to the Freeport Airport on Grand Bahama island. Those flights wouldn’t have been possible without the cooperation of the Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport staff, Banyan Air Services, the Grand Bahama International Airport staff, the Miss Montana (a WWII-era mid-sized cargo plane) flight crew, and private plane owners willing to fly our first meals to the island prior to Miss Montana’s arrival in Florida.

As you can imagine, the end-to-end logistics involved during this deployment were far outside the norm for us. But as always, our team met every new challenge with grit and perseverance, ensuring that every cooked meal went to someone who needed it.

Second, on Sept 19 we hit the 3 Million Meals mark! And we hit that milestone only a few days before the 1-year anniversary of our 2 Million Meals mark. Think about that for a minute. In just under 1 year, our Disaster Relief Team has cooked 1 million meals for people impacted by disasters.

The success of this entire deployment hinged on the cooperation of multiple businesses, churches, and the Bahamian government; and as always, the support of our benefactors and our amazing volunteers! Our own organizational culture (our collective underlying beliefs, assumptions, values, and ways of interacting) has contributed to the unique social and psychological environment of our organization and ultimately to our success. And it’s YOUR continued efforts that are helping OBR establish itself as a trusted mass-feeding organization, an organization that connects, inspires, serves, educates, and feeds those in need.

Thank YOU!

Will Cleaver and Stan Hays
Co-Founders of Operation BBQ Relief

Hurricane Dorian

September 2019 will long be remembered for Hurricane Dorian…the hurricane that kept meteorologists, emergency management agencies, residents along the Eastern seaboard, and OBR anticipating where she’d go and when she’d get there.

While there was major flooding along low-lying areas along the Atlantic coastline, Hurricane Dorian’s impact on the US was isolated and could be easily handled by local officials and relief organizations. The same couldn’t be said everywhere, however. The hurricane inflicted catastrophic damage on the islands of Abaco and Grand Bahama as it came to nearly a complete standstill over these northwestern Bahamian islands for more than 24 hours.

As per procedures, OBR was in contact with federal and state Emergency Management Agencies along the Atlantic coastline to determine if our support was needed as soon as it was clear that the hurricane would be making landfall somewhere. We pre-staged equipment near Atlanta and scouted potential deployment sites from FL to NC so that if/when we were called to action, we’d be ready. Meanwhile, we also kept tabs on The Bahamas, knowing that there may be a potential for our special brand of aid. Once we found that other organizations were handling the localized feeding needs in the US, we went full steam ahead with planning for a Bahamas deployment.

We set up our cook site in Ft. Lauderdale, FL and airlifted hot meals to Freeport, Grand Bahama, where OBR personnel received the food and distributed it. Over the course of 15 days, our Disaster Response Team provided a total of 88,515 meals to the people on Grand Bahama. The WWII-era C-47 plane named Miss Montana provided the majority of our meal flights.

Flying meals to their destination brought an additional dimension of logistical complexity to our normal deployment activities. Inclement weather, airplane mechanical issues, and Freeport airport closings all sometimes impacted meal delivery unexpectedly, leaving us with prepared food but no way to get it to the islands.. But that didn’t stop those 9350 cooked meals from being distributed. Those meals found eager recipients among the first responders and emergency shelters in the Ft. Lauderdale area.

Thanks to our ever-growing OBR family of volunteers, our sponsors, local businesses, and churches in both Ft. Lauderdale and Freeport, OBR hit two major milestones:

  • OBR’s 3 Million Meal mark
  • our first International deployment.

To date, we’ve connected, inspired, served, and fed those in need a total of 3,052,853 times!

In Case You Missed It…

OBR welcomed a film crew to our Wilmington, NC deployment for Hurricane Florence last year to film an episode of Making Good. We are thrilled to announce that aired on Wednesday, September 18 at 8PM ET on BYUTV. Did you miss it or you want to watch it again? It is also streamed on their website and you can watch it there.

BBQ Basics Series

After kicking off the series in Staten Island, New York and Kingsport, Tennessee, OBR’s Barbecue Basics moved on to its next event in Maine.

This stop was on September 27 in Rome, Maine at the Travis Mills Foundation. Founded in 2013 by retired United States Army Staff Sergeant Travis Mills and his wife Kelsey, the Foundation gives post 9/11 veterans injured in active duty or as a result of their service to our nation an all-inclusive, all-expenses paid, barrier-free vacation. While there, the veterans and their families participate in a wide range of adaptive activities, bond with other veteran families, and enjoy much-needed rest and relaxation.

Over the course of the event, BBQ Basics participants spend the first day learning about the tools, equipment, and methods needed to make the one hot meal that matters. On the second day they apply what they learn from our pitmasters to a fun-filled competition.

In addition to BBQ, those participating in BBQ Basics have been busy establishing new friendships along with their new hobby. BBQ Basics alumni David Nichols, Donnie Paul, and Billy Jack Collins were strangers prior to the Tri-Cities event. Less than a month later they formed Team Power Smoke BBQ, went to their first BBQ competition, and won a second place!

The next stop for BBQ Basics will be in Fort Bragg, NC on October 23-24.

Dates and locations of 2019 BBQ Basic Series:

Oct 23-24: Ft Bragg, NC
Navy Date and location TBD



We have two special members of the OBR family to tell you about today.

Abby James: Previous onsite deployment volunteer, recent virtual volunteer, and newly appointed to the volunteer role of National Volunteer Coordinator on the Volunteer Management Team.

Abby found OBR in a different manner than many. Not through BBQ roots or connections as is so often the case, but instead from nearly being impacted by disaster herself. She first saw a news segment on television talking about how OBR feeds not only those impacted by disaster but also the other agencies, work crews, and volunteers who all come help and that everyone gets a home meal; a meal that matters. When asked what it was that subsequently drove her to further research OBR and look to get involved, she replied, “So many people are involved when it comes to putting communities back together and serving them meals seemed like a really good way to give back.”

A few months later, wild fires broke out in Northern California and hit very close to their family home. She and her family safely evacuated the area and were lucky to be able to return home soon after with minimal loss. That wasn’t the case for many people they knew who had lost everything but the clothes on their backs. Soon after, Abby crossed paths with OBR again, this time at a deployment to her local area. That’s when she knew that she needed to get involved and this was the way to do it.

“I knew I wanted to help and I saw that OBR was going to be deploying locally. I volunteered and couldn’t believe how great OBR was. Everyone was so kind and really there for the right reasons. I knew immediately that these were my kind of people and I wanted to be a part of something like this.” Following deployment, she continued to follow OBR’s exploits and has supported OBR ever since, though based on location and other commitments hasn’t had as much opportunity for further deployment. But that recently changed.

Flash forward to September 2019 and the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian which impacted parts of the US and simply devastated The Bahamas. Along with that deployment and the milestones that would soon be set came a brand new opportunity; the recently launched “Virtual Volunteer Team,” a team concept which did not require travel or “boots on the ground” commitments. This is a team who could support deployments in numerous aspects from afar and help lighten the load on the site and deployment coordinators thereby freeing them up to focus on meal production.

When the call went out to staff that team and blaze that trail, Abby was at the head of the line with her hand in the air to help. And help she did. She dove right into the training, worked hard to learn as well as to help define and test the brand new processes and procedures. She took to the role immediately, collaborated exceedingly well with the entire team, and communicated effectively both internally and externally, and gave it her all.

Following her stint as a “virtual volunteer,” it became readily apparent through further discussion, that Abby had further desire to take on additional responsibility within OBR to have a continued impact. Abby sums it up best by saying, “Hurricane Dorian sealed the deal for me in knowing that this was the right organization for me to volunteer for. The push for being able to accomplish their first international deployment and being a part of their 3 millionth meal served was amazing. Nobody said, ‘We can’t do it’ it was always ‘How can we do it?’”.

With that, Abby has accepted a volunteer position as a new National Volunteer Coordinator on the Volunteer Management Team. This role has on-going duties which include many behind the scenes tasks including volunteer communications, personnel deployments, non-disaster event volunteer management, and much more.

Abby lives in Northern California with her husband, three children, two cats and a dog. When not serving others, they enjoy spending time on the lake, traveling, and of course good BBQ! We whole heartedly welcome Abby to the Volunteer Management Team.

Nick Wollfolk: Head pitmaster and culinary director.

Nick became a part of OBR in a little different way than most. “At 19, I had found myself struggling in not only my college studies but in life in general, when all of a sudden a good friend and my mentor, John Wheeler, asked me if I would work for him for a summer,” he recalls. On April 27, 2012, something happened that not only changed the lives of the residents of Mayflower, Arkansas forever, but Nick’s life as well. He had heard of OBR through John because he had helped in the efforts after the Moore, Oklahoma tornado. “I will never forget him telling me as we left the house, ‘what I am paying you for the next week is far more valuable than money, it’s the feeling of being able to provide something as simple as a bbq sandwich that shows that after everything bad that has happened, it will be OK.’”

After that deployment Nick knew that OBR would be something he would have to be a part of any chance he got. His next response would be Summerville, South Carolina assisting with meals to those displaced from floods in October of 2015; then Rowlett, Texas just after Christmas in 2015. “It was amazing to see so many different people come together to try to make a difference with a hot bbq meal,” he remembers.

He deployed several times in 2016 in support of flooding Louisiana, serving thousands of meals. “This time was different than any deployment I had been to before. We went from making a difference to making an impact,” he noted. OBR hit their 1 millionth meal served in Louisiana. From there, Nick went to Fayetteville, North Carolina after Hurricane Matthew and Gatlinburg, Tennessee after some devastating wildfires.

After serving in the role as pitmaster for a restaurant for much 2017, he was able to refocus his time on OBR in March of 2018. That fall, he deployed to Wilmington, North Carolina in support of Hurricane Florence. Immediately after OBR ended the WIlmington deployment, Hurricane Michael hit the panhandle of Florida and Nick was called into action again. In recognition of the growing need within OBR, Nick was asked to serve as the head pitmaster and culinary director, a role he eagerly accepted.

When Hurricane Dorian hit the Bahamas and OBR made the decision to deploy, Nick was one of the first people on the ground in the Bahamas. He stayed there for the duration of the deployment, working with NEMA, local churches and other NGOs to find ways to get the meals distributed to people in need. The final tally was more than 88,000 meals to feed the residents and first responders.

“It was a powerful experience for myself and a culmination of so much hard work to be able to be a part of this first international deployment. I have spent 117 days deployed since I first joined OBR and have help cook and serve more than a million meals. I look forward to serving millions more and giving back to an organization that has given so much to me.”

Any suggestions for topics for the newsletter?
Please email your suggestions to:

Upcoming Events


Oct 18th – 19th – Kansas City Marathon
Kansas City, MO

Oct 23rd – 24th – BBQ Basics,
Ft. Bragg, NC

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

Corporate Supporters



Join the #iamOBR movement with a tax deductible monthly contribution where you can select donation options to help support Operation BBQ Relief.


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.