Entire neighborhoods, schools and homes, in Moore, Oklahoma were completely destroyed and flattened by a deadly tornado that hit on Monday, killing 24 people. Now, all that people can do is literally pick up the pieces and take care of the survivors there. And one of the most classic ways to take care of people is to feed them. That's exactly what Operation BBQ Relief is doing. The non profit was formed exactly two years ago, days after a tornado devastated Joplin, Missouri.
"We're a bunch of competing BBQ cooks. We all do competitive BBQ from all over," says Will Cleaver, an award winning competitive barbecuer from Kansas City, Kansas who helped co-found Operation BBQ Relief.
He says the need in Joplin was overwhelming. They expected to serve about 5,000 meals and ended up serving 120,000 meals in eleven days. During this time, the volunteers realized that their hobby had prepared them for emergency relief work.
"About part way through that week we realized that competition BBQ allows some unique qualities to getting set up quick. We're used to leaving Friday morning from home and being at a competition by noon, setting up our campers so that we can be almost a health certified kitchen. Then we're cooking and then we're back out by Saturday at 5 o'clock."
Will called me this morning from Moore, Oklahoma, where he's been since Tuesday morning, serving BBQ to displaced people there along with dozens of volunteers.
"We've been getting pork, brisket and poultry and we're smoking all of that and cooking what we get and trying to be creative so we can vary up the menu some. But then also we have normal sides, barbecue beans, green beans, corn, whatever we can get our hands on. We try to provide as much of a balanced meal as possible."
All of the food and supplies come from donations, ranging from big companies like Farmer's Insurance, who one of the founders works for, to individual donors.
In the past two years, they've served BBQ to hundreds of thousands of people recovering from about a dozen disasters, including Hurricane Sandy and last month's deadly fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas.
"We get so much back from these people that we're helping. BBQ lends itself to good memories. People think of BBQ, you're in someone's backyard, you're relaxing with a cold beverage. It just kind of makes you think of happier times sometimes. Anything you can do to make them have two seconds of, 'Okay, it's not the end. We have to rebuild, we have to keep going.' We're trying to just get a warm meal in someone's belly who hasn't had a warm meal in a couple of days."
He says today's weather is not helping things for these poor people.
"You have pouring down rains today. Here are these people who have lost everything. They're trying to grab any shred of what life was like three days ago. Now it's soaking wet and a muddy mess. It truly is like everything went through a garbage disposal. It makes you appreciate what you have while you have it. I know myself, now when I hear a tornado siren I pay a lot more attention to it. Not only appreciate what's around me, but protecting my family. I see the devastation, it's very upsetting, but I still can't imagine. I can't even get to the point of imagining what it's like."
Click here to donate to Operation BBQ Relief.
Click here to follow their progress on Facebook.