Well Done

In the wake of Hurricane Ida, this BBQ travel team fired up the grills to keep folks fed

Lion Bryan Roppolo is serious about barbeque.

Look for him on a weekend and you may find him competing in barbeque contests where he labors over a hot smoker hoping to produce a tasty and award-winning pork loin, beef brisket, slab of ribs, or chuck roast.

Roppolo, who is a past president of the Downtown Shreveport Club, took his beloved hobby in a different direction two years ago when he decided those hot meals he makes for fun could help people in dire need.

In 2019 Roppolo co-founded Giving Bak Foundation, a nonprofit that provides meals to community members, first responders, and others in the southeast U.S. after a natural disaster strikes.

“The idea originated with a bunch of competition barbecue guys,” he says. “That’s what we do on the weekends. We set up in a parking lot and cook for competitions. We got together and decided we wanted to help feed people who’ve experienced a disaster.”

Over the past two years, Roppolo and other Lion volunteers have responded to five disasters.

After Hurricane Ida hit Louisiana in August many had lost their homes or were left without power or water. Roppolo and four other Lion volunteerstwo people load food into a truck brought their cooking skills to help families recover.

Well before the storm hit, Roppolo was keeping an eye on weather reports.

“Days before, we looked at all the different radar channels, looking at where the storm was going to make landfall,” Roppolo says. “We made a logical guess that this area was where we needed to be. The eye of the storm went 10 miles east of here.”

That area is Denham Springs, La., where Roppolo connected with Christ’s Community Church and set up a field kitchen in their parking lot.

Shannon Easley, wife of pastor Willis Easley, says Roppolo and his volunteers were there 18 hours after the storm hit.

“We met in the parking lot,” she says. “We didn’t have power or water. But Bryan said, ‘Can you give meals away at lunch time?’”

Yes, they could, said Easley, who turned on a computer powered by a generator and sent out a message via social media that hot meals would be served for lunch. A few hours later Roppolo and his team were distributing meals of pork loin and green beans to a long line of weary residents that snaked through the church’s parking lot.

A total of 3000 people received a hearty lunch that day. By the end of the week, the group had served a total of about 36,000 meals, including breakfast, lunch, and dinner, even making some deliveries to those who couldn’t get to the church.

Easley was impressed with their operation.

“They have it going on,” she says. “They have huge smokers, freezer trucks, motor homes, and cookers. They are a well-oiled machine. They roll in here for a week and work from early morning to late at night. It’s unbelievable.”

Roppolo witnessed the wreckage left behind by the hurricane first-hand.

“We delivered food to one area where a lady said, ‘This is my house. And I looked around and said ‘Where?” and she said, ‘No. This was my house. It’s gone.’  There was nothing left there. So, yes. We’ve seen complete devastation,” he says.

Setting up the kitchen is no easy task. The group brings the food they serve — all of which is donated — with them, along with utensils, tables, cooking equipment and any other items they need. For every meal, they serve a protein, vegetable, and starch.

“It makes for a more filling meal,” says Lion Scott Harkey of the North Shreveport Lions Club, who helped out. Near the end of the week he joked that he was tired but glad to be there.

“We’ve been blessed to be able to help others and bring them something at their time of need,” he says. “It’s not just a physical need. It’s a spiritual need. We’re able to put the church in a situation where they can spiritually minister to these people. That’s more important than filling bellies.”

While the volunteers were there only about a week — until grocery stores and gas stations were starting to reopen — it was long enough to make an impact.

“They are a gift from God,” says Easley.