Faces of Kansas City: Feeding those struck by natural disasters - KCTV5

Faces of Kansas City: Feeding those struck by natural disasters

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This last weekend capped off another deliciously successful American Royal barbecue competition but there was something different about this year's cook-off.

When images of the stunning devastation in Joplin first splashed across TV screens in Kansas City last May, Stan Hays knew he had to do something. Hays works in the insurance industry but his passion is barbecue, so he started calling members of a barbecue team to cook up ideas on how to help Joplin.

"We went down there not knowing what to expect and came away with a life changing experience," Jeff Stith said.

"This is what we do on a weekly basis," Hays said. "We go out in a parking lot and set up a tent and a smoker and we cook."

They called it Operation Barbecue Relief and within hours after the tornado cut a deadly swath through Joplin, they were feeding people who were stunned and hungry.

"We had people who had just lost their homes coming and helping us. They were directing us to neighborhoods where people's cars were destroyed. They couldn't get out, they were scared to leave their home so we were taking food back to them," Hays said.

They originally planned to barbecue up about 5,000 meals. They did that in the first lunch they served. By the time they left Joplin, they had cooked 70,000 pounds of food, most of it donated.

"We figured (we served) in between 120 to 130,000 meals over 11 days," Hays said.

At the American Royal, Hays, Stith and Will Cleaver cooked up some top notch food - but more importantly they networked with other barbecue teams to spread the concept of Operation Barbecue Relief.

"It was a chance to touch base with 500 teams. Those 500 teams are from all over the country. (The) nice thing about that is we can start to spread out. We know being from Kansas City we can work the Midwest but we can't get to California very easily or Florida or Pennsylvania," Cleaver said.

Their plan is simple. The next time a natural disaster strikes, they'll contact the nearest barbecue teams in their database to begin the process of finding donated food and supplies and then feeding people who need help. The concept is one just like they did in Joplin.

"It brings me to tears still and that is the driving force behind what we want to do on a national level and why we want to take this idea nationwide with any kind of disaster," Stith said.

When they set up their base of operation to feed people in Joplin, the men were so efficient that workers with the Salvation Army were amazed. It was then that they realized they might be on to something that could help on a national basis.

For more information on Operation Barbecue Relief, click here.



The guys behind Operation BBQ Relief are up for a major award. The local nonprofit is a finalist in the categories of "best new charity" and "disaster relief and international aid" in the nation's largest philanthropic awards ceremony. Operation BBQ Relief was organized to help feed the people of Joplin after last year's devastating tornado.

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