It’s True, Kookers Do Kare!
January 17, 2012
The more I travel the country meeting fellow outdoor cooks, the more I realize that our bond goes much further than the love of barbecuing and grilling. In truth, these are some of the most generous and caring individuals you will ever meet, willing to go to amazing lengths to lend a helping hand.
Case in point, Kookers Kare, a group of BBQ cooks who have come together to help those in need. I recently caught up with the organization’s Chairman, Craig Kidwell, for a quick debrief on their great work.
Thanks so much for your time, Craig. What is Kookers Kare?
Kookers Kare is a 501c3 organization consisting of BBQ enthusiasts aiding those in need. We provide support to various Food Pantries, on site Feeding Facilities, and Food Programs such as the Back Snack programs that provides weekend meals to school children throughout the school year. We also host the food drive at the American Royal BBQ Contest which last year brought in over 5500 lbs of food product for Harvesters.
What inspired you to create this program?
I learned that local food pantries were experiencing shortages throughout the year and given my existing involvement in the BBQ community, I thought what better way to give back than BBQ. So my good friend Larry Marks, his wife Joan (Three Little Pigs competition BBQ team) and I joined with Bob and Margaret Nolop (Armadillo Bob competition BBQ team) and started what is now Kookers Kare Inc.
How’d you come up with the unique spelling of the name?
We picked Kookers Kare because when called upon, cookers always step up. We chose the K’s just to be unique, just like we are.
Any particular memories from that first event in 1997?
We chose the month of March because that’s when we felt pantries were in the greatest need. The first event was in Kansas City, Kansas at the Wyandotte County Fairgrounds with 75 volunteers mainly consisting of Kansas City Barbecue Society members who were eager to cook. Our first facility to cook for was the Kansas City Union Mission. That night we cooked 3000lbs of pork butt and brisket. It felt like we were at a contest and the Grand Prize was helping others in need. I think we also used 3000lbs of ice to cool the pork butts. We now use a refrigerated truck.
And the next year you teamed with an organization called Harvesters Network. Perhaps you can tell the Grilling.com community a little about their work?
Harvesters is a clearinghouse for the collection and distribution of food and related household products. They distribute these products through a network of 620 nonprofit agencies throughout 26 counties including emergency food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters, children’s homes, and many other facilities. They provide food assistance to as many as 66,000 people each week. They are a certified member of Feeding America, a nationwide network of more than 200 food banks serving all 50 states. In 2011, Harvesters was named Food Bank of the Year by Feeding America.
What has been the reaction of the people being helped?
Normally Harvesters will start getting calls around the first of March requesting THAT BBQ. That is something the recipients don’t receive during the year and we are happy to provide the best. Recently I was invited to a Back Snack program at a local school presented by Harvesters where we saw the distribution of back packs to children for the week-end. As they got their backpacks, they were so excited to see what they got. One was asked what his favorite was and he replied “peaches” while another said “ravioli.” Harvesters provides 15,000 backpacks each week and they said there is a need for 40,000….We still have a lot of work to do and with your help we can make an even bigger difference.
How many individuals do you think you have you fed and in how many locations?
We feed 15-20 onsite feeding facilities in March and in November we donate over 600 turkeys for Thanksgiving. We also provide aid for several BBQ contest supported food pantries, in September we provide weekend meals to 55 school children through Harvesters Back Snack Program, and are involved in a school lunch program in a rural school.
What does it take to coordinate a Kookers Kare event? How many volunteers do you need?
Kookers Kare has a core group of about a dozen people who are involved in planning events and fundraisers all year long. We depend on a larger number of volunteers to put on those events. Most are from the BBQ community, some are from local businesses and some are just individuals who care about the needs of others. We can always use volunteers, donations and ideas.
And how about the food itself?
You have to remember these are all competition BBQ teams that do the cooking. Each year we sell between 400 and 500 racks of ribs to raise fund for our food pantry donations. The 6000lbs. of pork butt we cook in March is gone in a week and at our Winter FunFest pot luck dinner we hold in February we get some of the best side dishes you’ve ever tasted.
Finally, how can the Grilling.com community get involved or lend their support?
Buy a ticket to our Winter FunFest and hang out with your BBQ friends in February. You’ll also have a chance to win some great door prizes and get a chance to win a free entry to a BBQ contest. In March volunteer to help cook pork butts for Harvesters. We are also sponsoring a meat prep class, “Trim to Win,” where you‘ll learn how to select and trim chicken, ribs, pork and brisket from professional butchers. You can get all the details on our website, KookersKare.com, where you can also make a donation thru Paypal.