From Donors to Workers
By Lisa Readie Mayer
When Kurt Rumens took the stage to accept a Vesta Award during the HPBExpo in Salt Lake City in early March, he pledged his support for Operation BBQ Relief, a nonprofit organization that cooks and serves barbecued meals to victims and first responders in natural disaster areas. Never did he imagine that just two weeks later he would be providing relief in the aftermath of a natural disaster in his own community.
On March 22, in Oso, Washington, just 40 miles from Rumen’s company Travis Industries, manufacturer of Lopi, Avalon and Fireplace Xtrordinair hearth products, a mudslide destroyed nearly everything in its one-square-mile path, killing 33, leveling 35 homes and 14 other buildings, and leaving 13 others still missing as of press time.
Hundreds of local, state and federal first responders, disaster aid workers, and citizen volunteers descended on the area to help deal with the muck and misery left behind. Among them was Rumens, who, along with a group of about 35 Travis Industries employees, sprang into action after seeing images of the disaster on television newscasts.
“Many of the people who work for us know someone missing, or know someone who knows someone missing,” says Rumens. “It hit home for us.”
|L to R: Edward Hosack, Brad McBrien, Kip Rumens and Matt Gunnarson, all from Travis Industries; at far right is a local volunteer.|
His first call was to Stan Hays, co-founder and director of Operations for Operation BBQ Relief (OBR). When Hays told him that the organization, which relies on a network of competitive barbecue teams and other volunteers across the country to respond to disasters in their regions, did not have any contacts in the Oso area, Rumens replied, “Okay, we’ll be your contacts.”
Hays gave Rumens a crash course in disaster-relief meal preparation, advising him on contacting and working with the Red Cross, the equipment he would need, and the importance of food safety procedures. With permission to help secured from the Red Cross director of Disaster Relief, Rumens next reached out to a local caterer the company uses for its events; he asked to borrow their large catering grills.
Next, he contacted a mobile refrigeration company that loaned him a refrigerated truck. Rumens and his team also purchased meat, borrowed tents from the local Kiwanis organization, and had banners made with OBR logos supplied by Hays.
The group set up operations at the FEMA headquarters, about 11 miles from the disaster site, and worked from 7:30 am until 10 pm, cooking and serving lunch and dinner – 1,400 meals total – over three days. Besides employees, the Travis team also included some of its dealers, who traveled up to 75 miles to lend a hand.
According to Rumens, one of the most difficult aspects of the effort was working with a diligent health department inspector who ensured that the team was adhering to all food-safety rules.
“One of our employees has experience running a restaurant, so she is experienced in food safety and is food licensed,” says Rumens. “We had proper refrigeration, digital thermometers, and a hand-washing station, so we were fine, but other food that had been donated had to be thrown out. The inspector said, ‘Everyone wants to help, but we can’t risk another disaster by getting first responders and volunteers sick from food poisoning on top of everything.’
“Stan had prepared us for this,” Rumens says of the importance of food safety. “We would not have gotten in touch with the right people at the Red Cross, and would not have been able to get involved had it not been for Operation BBQ Relief. It’s a known entity and well respected and we now have an even greater appreciation for what they do.”
Besides serving first responders at FEMA headquarters, the Travis team packed up hot meals and brought them to a school gymnasium being used as a shelter and waiting area for displaced people and those hoping to hear news about missing family members.
|First responders line up for lunch.|
“We happened to be there serving food when officials came to brief people,” Rumens recalls. “The mission had switched from rescue to recovery and it was very emotional. These people had lost everything. There were children without parents, women without husbands. It was just so sad.”
Rumens says his company’s support is continuing beyond the initial relief efforts. Travis employees raised $15,000 to help the effort. “Some donated cash, and others asked if they could do a payroll deduction over time,” he says. “A lot of guys turned in vacation days and we will donate their pay for those days to the relief efforts. I am very proud of my team.”
The path between “from-afar supporter” and “in-the-trenches worker” on behalf of Operation BBQ Relief has been short for Rumens – a fact not lost on him. He has a renewed appreciation for the fragility of life and the responsibility to help others.
“We had just come from the trade show where we heard Stan speak, and it motivated us to make a donation (to OBR),” said Rumens. “At the time we couldn’t have imagined there would be a need right in our own community. But that’s the thing about life; you just never know.”
To support the relief efforts and the victims of the mudslide in Oso, Washington, donations may be made to the Cascade Valley Hospital Foundation. They are also taking cash and check donations by phone at 360-435-2133, ext. 7805. You can also drop off or mail donations to 330 S. Stillaguamish Ave. in Arlington. To find out more about Operation BBQ Relief and how you can help, visit www.operationbbqrelief.org.