Emlyn Thomas

Apr 11, 2024 | Volunteer Spotlights

One volunteer who always goes above and beyond in service to our mission is Emlyn Thomas, who currently serves as our area coordinator for Illinois. Emlyn got involved with Operation BBQ Relief in 2022 after hearing about us at several Kansas City Barbeque Society competitions, where he served as a judge. Due to his personal history with disaster, he was immediately interested in helping us out.

“I lived through an EF-4 tornado that ripped through Louisville, Ky. as a boy. I understand what a hot meal can bring to someone,” Emlyn said. “Looking back now, I realize I had been searching for some way to help people by volunteering. OBR gives me a chance to do that in a way that is very welcoming and supportive.”

He first volunteered at one of our “blue sky” events, and then joined our Virtual Volunteer team when Hurricane Ian struck Florida later that year.

“I had some free time during the day and decided to help by volunteering as a Virtual Volunteer. Being able to help people impacted by the disaster and direct them to feeding locations, taking orders for pickups, and helping volunteers get signed up for shifts on site was gratifying,” Emlyn said.

Emlyn soon deployed to Port Charlotte, Fl. to help people impacted by Hurricane Ian “boots-on-the-ground.” Emlyn was impressed with how much Operation BBQ Relief was able to accomplish.

“There is a real sense of collective ‘can do’ attitude within OBR,” Emlyn said. “Sometimes things are difficult, but how hard something will be does not seem to matter, just getting the job done. OBR served over 865,000 meals in 38 days during that deployment. I am honored I was able to play a small part.”

Emlyn also realized the importance of every volunteer role.

“After I got home from Port Charlotte, I felt a little disappointed that I did not directly interact with Florida residents ‘in the field’ as I spent all of my time at the base camp,” Emlyn said. “But I realized my role was serving the volunteers and food truck staff that were cooking and directly serving the people of Florida. Every job at OBR serves a purpose and is important in delivering the One Hot Meal That Matters. ”

Emlyn had some words of wisdom for those who may want to volunteer with Operation BBQ Relief.

“Please understand that OBR is not just a bunch of Pitmasters. There is something that everyone can do to help in feeding communities after disasters and enriching heroes every day,” Emlyn said. “From inventory management, to preparing boxes for loading, to handing out meals directly to those impacted, there are a multitude of tasks that have to happen to make the mission a success. Whatever skills you have, OBR can utilize. Whatever you want to learn, we can teach you.”

To register to volunteer with Operation BBQ Relief, download the “OBR Volunteers” smartphone app or visit our website at https://operationbbqrelief.org/volunteer-obr! Do you know a volunteer who has gone above and beyond? We want to hear from you! Nominate a volunteer for a spotlight by emailing marketing@operationbbqrelief.org.


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.