For those of us who don’t live in the affected areas of California, it’s hard to imagine what it feels like to have wildfires raging around you, ready to take a devastating turn with the slightest wind.
And it’s even harder to imagine what it’s like to be a firefighter in charge of trying to stop those blazes before they destroy someone’s home or business.
With staff stretched thin, and despite help coming in from other states, some firefighters are working 12+-hour shifts (or longer) to protect residents and contain the flames. A few days ago there were more than 10 active wildfires in California, each burning tens of thousands of acres – today there are 8.
By the time firefighters get a break, they’re exhausted, emotional, stressed and hungry.
That’s why those in places of privilege are teaming up with volunteer organizations to do what they can to take care of these men and women. Actor Matthew McConaughey is one of them and has joined Operation BBQ Relief (OBR) to prepare and deliver meals to first responders in Los Angeles, where he has a home.
The star, who is also the Creative Director of Wild Turkey, has participated in multiple collaborative events between the two organizations.
Last Friday, the team had dropped off 800 BBQ turkey dinners to firefighters – but they didn’t forget other vulnerable residents. They delivered another 800 meals to one of LA’s homeless shelters.
The firefighters returning from the front lines not only had a good meal but volunteers listened to stories about what they had been through and offered their thanks for these men and women’s bravery.
McConaughey also used social media to get the word out to those not affected by the fires. He asked for volunteers and donations to support this special form of disaster relief on behalf of Operation BBQ Relief.
“Being able to provide meals to the men and women who put themselves on the line is an honor for me—and hopefully inspire others to get involved and help in their own communities,” he said.
OBR began in 2011 after tornadoes ripped through Joplin, Missouri and left many of its 50,000 residents without basic resources.
Organizers recruited volunteers from BBQ competitions in 8 states to help feed the people displaced by the disaster as well as the police, fire, National Guard, and other emergency personnel on the ground.
They delivered 120,000 meals during that initial venture.
According to their website:
“Food was delivered to shelters, hospitals, senior living communities and the Humane Society. Volunteers loaded food into vehicles and delivered directly to families in the impacted areas. The operation was made possible by all who contributed food and supplies and funding from across the country.”
Now, Operation BBQ Relief responds to natural disasters around the country “to help feed displaced residents and emergency personnel.” And they’re everywhere, from small tornado-stricken towns with power outages to full-on disaster zones.
BBQ might not seem like a big deal, but in moments of crisis, often what people need most are moments of normalcy. A hot meal of something more than ration packets can give victims and helpers a chance to take a deep breath, get some nutrition, and focus more clearly on the road ahead.
The collaboration between OBR and Wild Turkey began in 2016.
The partners had already planned to travel around the country in November and December for a “With Thanks” tour and fundraise for first responders. But when fires broke out again, they gathered in California to do what they do best.
In the past, OBR has thanked Hurricane Harvey first responders in Houston, the brave men and women who helped out during Hurricane Michael in Florida and Hurricane Florence in North Carolina, as well as those working last year’s Carr Fire in California.
OBR’s 14,000 volunteers have served more than 3 million meals since 2011.
In 2017, OBR’s president and CEO Stan Hays was named one of the “CNN Heroes” for his work with the organization.
Like all charities, OBR depends on donations, so if you’re interested in helping, please go to Operationbbqrelief.org.
Be sure to scroll down below to see McConaughey’s Facebook video as well as OBR’s video about what the organization does.
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