Missouri Pitmasters Bringing ‘Operation Barbecue Relief’ to Victims of Hurricane Ida at Gulf Coast

by Jennifer Shea

After a tornado hit Joplin, Missouri ten years ago, Operation Barbecue Relief was born. And now the two Missouri pitmasters who founded it are bringing their mission of barbecue mercy to the struggling people of Louisiana.

In the wake of Hurricane Ida, Operation Barbecue Relief is headed to the Gulf Coast to cater to first responders and hard-hit local communities there, KMOV reports. The group’s cofounders know well the comfort that good food can offer in difficult times.

The pitmasters have brought their barbecue aid to 30 states across the country since they founded the effort. And they have served more than 9 million meals. Now Louisiana residents will get a taste of barbecue as they recover from Ida.

“Our perspective on life was a little bit changed after that [tornado],” Operation Barbecue Relief co-founder Stan Hays told KMOV. “Knowing that for 15 minutes or so that a pulled pork sandwich gave them a little bit of normalcy is not something that any of us had some grand idea would happen. But we realized that it’s something that is so needed. Not just in Joplin but after every disaster.”

Operation Barbecue Relief Grew Out of Competitive Barbecue Teams

Hays co-founded Operation Barbecue Relief with his friend Jeff Stith. Both had served as pitmasters on competitive barbecue teams, according to NPR. On their first mission, they planned to hold a cookout for several days. They figured they would quickly run out of supplies. But people kept helping them when they were about to run out. So they wound up staying for 11 days and serving 120,000 meals.

From there, they and about a dozen of their friends from competitive barbecue teams formed a touring disaster-relief company. They deploy whenever calamity strikes. They serve ribs and sandwiches and fries, hearty meals full of protein to tide people over when they can’t cook for themselves.

Since they launched Operation Barbecue Relief, the pitmasters have also become aware of people who go hungry due to disasters of a more personal nature. So they founded the Always Serving Project, which attempts to address chronic hunger stemming from poverty.

Pitmasters Have Their Work Cut Out for Them After Ida

Meanwhile, Operation Barbecue Relief will be parachuting into a serious disaster area when they get to Louisiana. While Hurricane Ida has passed, the region is still reeling from its damage.

At least four people are dead and approximately 515,952 homes were damaged by the hurricane’s winds, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The power is still out. Major roads are blocked. Cell service is unreliable. Stores are shuttered. Many ATMs are out of cash. More than 650,000 Louisiana residents are without water. And communities across Louisiana and Mississippi are under boil-water advisories and alerts.

As if that weren’t bad enough, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said Tuesday that “our hospitals are full.” The state’s hospitals are running on generator power, bottled water and emergency staffing for now. But Bel Edwards said he is pushing to get the electricity back up as soon as possible.

The pandemic is just one concern of many for rescue workers, who will have to make their way through punishing heat and humidity and, in some places, dangerous floodwaters.

Fortunately, it’s not the first rodeo for Operation Barbecue Relief. They’ll have a decade of experience to draw upon as they make their way through the Gulf Coast, and best of luck to them as they do.