Laurie Polak

Jan 2, 2024 | Volunteer Spotlights

Since before Operation BBQ Relief even officially existed, Laurie Polak has been an important part of our family. Laurie and her husband, Brian, were both involved with the Kansas City Barbeque Society when a large EF5 tornado struck Joplin, Mo. in 2011. Our co-founders, Stan Hays and Will Cleaver, organized competitive pitmasters from nine different states to feed displaced families and first responders. Together, they were able to serve over 120,000 meals in 13 days. Shortly after, they filed for nonprofit status, and Operation BBQ Relief was born.

“Operation BBQ Relief wasn’t even an organization yet, but when our founders’ request for monetary donations spread through the ‘BBQ grapevine’, we donated. When Operation BBQ Relief was officially founded, we continued donating and are members of the Founders Club,” Laurie said.

In September 2017, Laurie was inspired to go “boots-on-the-ground” and deployed to Estero, Fl. in the wake of Hurricane Irma.

“The teamwork and camaraderie were inspiring. As a first-timer, I was welcomed, made to feel like a part of the family, and taught anything and everything that I was interested in learning. I was able to interact directly with impacted local residents, hearing their stories, sharing their tears, and humbly accepting their gratitude,” Laurie said. “All of those experiences coalesced, making me want to deploy again. And truth be told, every subsequent deployment has brought new experiences that continue to reinforce my dedication to this organization.”

To date, Laurie has been on 16 disaster deployments, worked many non-disaster events across the United States, and remotely/virtually supported disaster deployments when she couldn’t travel. She had words of wisdom to share with those considering volunteering with Operation BBQ Relief.

“Whether it’s a disaster deployment or a non-disaster event, volunteering with OBR brings many opportunities to learn new skills and work alongside so many people with servant’s hearts,” Laurie said. “One concern that so many folks have is that they need to know how to use a smoker or know how to grill. That’s not the case at all! You only need a desire to help others and a willingness to learn.”

Due to her outstanding contributions to the organization, Laurie earned the 2018 Rod Cramer Volunteer of the Year Award from Operation BBQ Relief. She also received the President’s Volunteer Service Gold Award for volunteering more than 500 hours in 2022.

Do you know an Operation BBQ Relief volunteer who has gone above and beyond in their service to our mission to bring hot meals and hope to communities in need? Click the link to nominate them for a 2023 Operation BBQ Relief Volunteer Award:


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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.