Operation BBQ Relief volunteers work to prepare meat for mass feedings. 

In the wake of a natural disaster, a hot meal can provide comfort and respite from chaos and confusion. Operation BBQ Relief (OBR) has shown up to cook and distribute meals to first responders and survivors of natural disasters for seven years. OBR’s executive team and bank of volunteers consist of willing people – all with regular day jobs – giving their time, skills and effort to those in need after disaster hits.

In May of 2011, an EF-5 tornado blew through Joplin, Missouri, leaving a path of devastation that included 158 deaths and more than 1,000 injuries. It was the morning after the Joplin tornado that Stan Hays, CEO and co-founder of OBR, and another co-founder who is no longer with the organization, began brainstorming.

The founders wondered if a contingency of competition barbecue cooks could rally as a community to get from the Kansas City area to Joplin as soon as possible to cook and serve hot barbecue to those in need of a meal.

“Who better to go set up in a parking lot to do that than a bunch of guys that do it to compete any given weekend,” Hays says. “That was the thought process.”

Hays and the original team that went to Joplin to serve a few thousand meals realized they filled a gap between the immediate end of a disaster and the time at which local churches, civic organizations and larger, more sustained groups arrived on the scene to start healing and helping victims and the affected community.

“We ended up being in that parking lot in Joplin for 11 days and serving approximately 120,000 meals. By the time we left there we knew we were going to start a nonprofit organization,” Hays says.

Hays, co-founder and CFO/COO Will Cleaver and another former co-founder took on the process of putting the paperwork together and started the journey to becoming a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. OBR still went to disaster sites to serve barbecue to first responders and others before attaining its official nonprofit designation.

“With that we’ve been in 25 states now, 44 or 45 different disasters in those different states and served just over 1.75 million hot barbecue meals to people that have been affected by disaster and those first responders that come to those communities,” Hays says.