When you think of philanthropy, what likely comes to mind is a billionaire who gives away a few million to some charity. What probably doesn’t leap to mind is barbecue.
But a volunteer organization called Operation BBQ Relief recently won a regional round of the Classy Awards competition and is now a finalist to take home
receive a Classy Award (*) one of the biggest prizes in philanthropy. Winners will be announced in September.
Operation BBQ Relief was formed last spring in response to the tornadoes that devastated Joplin, Mo. It rounded up fellow barbecuers and set up in a parking lot, where grillers made ribs, pork loin and other foods to feed first responders and hungry residents.
Because of its network of fellow barbecuers around the country, Operation BBQ Relief is like a rapid-response team. The group, made up completely of volunteers, has continued its work since then, responding to natural disasters in nine states and serving more than 150,000 meals.
“The name recognition [from the Classy Award] will definitely help us,” said Stan Hays, 41, executive director and one of the three co-founders of Operation BBQ Relief.
The co-founders have day jobs, but the disasters keep on coming. So the organization created a board of directors to help manage the group and fundraise for it. The co-founders retain veto power over some decisions.
The Classy Awards were started four years ago by StayClassy, a San Diego organization founded in 2006 that sells fundraising software to nonprofits. In 2009, its Classy Awards were introduced to highlight do-gooderism in the group’s hometown. Since then, the awards have gone global.
Last year, more than 2,000 organizations and volunteers were nominated for awards, which are broken into categories, including Charity of the Year, Best New Charity and Volunteer of the Year. Each category has four regional winners — East, South, West and Midwest – and, drawn from them, a national winner.
Charities cover the gamut of issues, from homelessness to poverty to the environment to health. One group helps traumatized teenagers in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. Another helps military widows cope with the loss of their husbands in the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Operation BBQ Relief, which is based in Kansas City, Mo., was a winner in the Midwest region’s Disaster Relief and International Aid category. The win puts the organization in the competition for a national Classy Award.
Hays says that Operation BBQ Relief is hopeful the attention will help the organization raise money for two cargo trailers with stainless steel tables and supplies, “so we don’t have to spend the first 48 hours trying to get all the supplies.”
The awards ceremony will be held on Sept. 22 in San Diego.
* An earlier version of this story reported that Operation BBQ Relief had won a Classy Award. The organization had just won a regional round of the competition. The winners will not be announced until September.