Unfortunately too often it takes someone else’s tragedy to remind you of how lucky you really are.
This past week my wife and I went to Washington, IL to help Operation BBQ Relief serve meals to those that were affected by the tornadoes on November 17. Many didn’t think that a November tornado outbreak was possible, but that quickly changed for several towns throughout central Illinois, non more than Washington, IL with 1 dead and 125 injured. We were even reminded of how lucky we are with a tornado that went through the Westville, IL area. Fortunately no one was killed.
There are so many adjectives for how I felt while waiting, responding and serving the Washington IL area, but no one single word fits or feels right. Words like excited, eager, humbled and sad all describe what we felt.
When I say excited, it’s not a happy kind of excited, but more of a eagerness to make sure no one is hungry.
Sad came when we reached the path of the tornado. Looking into a field of debris and seeing mattresses, clothes and memories started the eyes to feel a bit moist. Then came pulling down the drive of the church and seeing piles after piles of debris. By the time we arrived, it had been only been 2 days and yet the community had already came together to start the cleanup. It felt like I had a golf ball in my throat. As we drove past the entrance of the church there sat a pile of muddy stuffed animals waiting for their owners to come claim them. This just reinforced the reality of who this disaster impacted.
We arrived to our site location and immediately began breaking down pork butts to get out to the church. I took on the responsibility of getting food to the church and trying to make sure the order information was accurate, that almost seemed like a winless battle.
While taking on this responsibility, I had the pleasure of meeting an amazing woman, Nicky ( I apologize if I spelled it wrong). Nicky was an energetic 60 yo give or take. It took a little bit to talk to her because she always seemed to be about 2 locations ahead of where someone last saw her. After about the 15th trip across the parking lot, I was getting pretty good at how to guess where she would be. I kinda started to feel a need to look after her and was afraid that she had forgotten to think about her self every now and then. I’m no spring chicken, but am also nowhere near a slow down phase, and I had a hard time keeping pace with her. I just learned to talk and walk with her.
She had made a comment that they were having a hard time storing all the food. Luckily I had brought all of my insulated food transporters and offered them up for their use. I truly believe that even that little contribution made a huge difference. Not only were they able to store more food, but they were able to use the drink carriers to get drinks out to the people working in the fields. I still think that is where the one unaccounted drink carrier is.
Throughout the days we were there I never met a past friend only strangers, but that quickly changed. From locals like Ron, Kevin and Dennis, to those that traveled from the south like Jason, John and JD. JD was a young kid that missed a few days of school to help. That didn’t mean that he missed out on school work though, the church was nice enough to allow his homework to be faxed to him. Ron was the VP of a local company that owns several Famous Dave’s and Alexander Steakhouses. This guy was an amazing man and never once thought that he was too good to do something. From washing dishes, to picking up around the site to flipping burgers for 4 hours straight, Ron was on top of it. Colete was from Indiana and was a huge help in not letting any insurance agents try to intimidate my wife. Believe it or not, I’m not sure I’d like to have a “Good Neighbor” like that. Then there was Dot she was wonderful enough to make deliveries even at 10pm.
I know there were many more people that busted their rears that I might not 100% remember and I do sincerely apologize. You were just as important as the others. Even Famous Dave Anderson himself showed up to see an operation in progress. He said he is going to use this as an example to get other franchises on board to help out in the future.
It may only be cooking and preparing food, but I will honestly say that exhaustion easily took control by the end of the days. I’m not sure that there was any part of the body that didn’t feel the effects of the work. I had even made the joke to my wife that I didn’t even have time during the day to check Facebook. I did however make time to check it at night and can not say how much I enjoyed/appreciated all of the comments of support that we received. It helped to keep us going.
Speaking of time to do something, it is amazing at the places you find to relax. Mine was a port-a-potty, to be specific it was the northeast one. It seemed to be the one spot to unwind without interruption and to check Facebook. So trust that when teams and volunteers respond with OBR it is a serious job that we take on. The only exception is after all the night meals have gone out and the food is on to cook, that we stand around a fire and have a drink or two.
By the end of our time there, people had heard about us and frequented our area to say thank you and how much they appreciated everything we were doing. There really is genuine appreciation for all that we do when we are on site. So much so that after delaying our departure by a few hours, Nicky came over and was shocked that we were still there. She about brought me to tears when she said “What am I going to do when you leave? Who is going to get my meals?” I reassured her that John is more than competent and would ensure she had everything she needed. She then said ” Well I’m not going to have any young men to hug to get warm”. So I gave her one last long hug, before she was off running again.
As of noon on Saturday, Operation BBQ Relief provided it’s 500,000th meal since the first one in Joplin, MO. This is an organization of compassion and caring along with a skill set of great cooks. None of this is possible without the support of those that donate, whether it be monetary, time or resources. I say thank you to all of you. You help build OBR into the organization that it is and into what it will become.
This disaster reaffirms that no matter where a disaster may hit, if there are people to feed OBR will be there.
Now I need to go get a glass of water to help swallow this lump in my throat that the memories have brought back.