TOMS RIVER – The sun was shining. It wasn’t too hot. Wasn’t too cold. It was the perfect day for a barbecue.
This particular barbecue was for a good cause. Operation BBQ Relief set up in the parking lot of the Presbyterian Church on Hooper Avenue to serve free meals to families in need. It was the fifth time the group has come to Toms River. They came after Superstorm Sandy, and also in 2018, 2019, and 2020.
They were serving chicken leg quarters, mashed potatoes and corn on the cob. Due to the coronavirus, the meals were drive-through. Volunteers put the meals in the vehicles’ back seats, trunks, or truck beds. Occasionally, someone would give them some cash to help pay for the next event.
David Keith, Area Coordinator for New Jersey, and owner of DRJ Catering, said that the group has served millions of meals since it began. Several people started Operation BBQ Relief in 2011 to serve people in need after tornadoes in Joplin, Missouri.
And, as mentioned before, they came after Sandy. And there are always disasters like that where people are in sudden need of help. The pandemic is no different than a hurricane in that aspect.
But there are also “blue sky days,” he said, where people need help just because they need help. There’s no particular disaster they are responding to. Times are tough for people, and the volunteers never ask questions. If you’re on the line, they’ll give you food and they’ll give you their time and service.
One thing that separates natural disasters from any other day is compassion, he said. Everyone pulled together after Superstorm Sandy. We were all in it together. He said he wished that compassion would last year-round.
The event was coordinated by DRJ Catering and the Hope Center, a non-profit created by the Clergy Association of Greater Toms River.
Brick resident Victor Finamore said he organized the fundraising to support it. He had first seen what Operation BBQ Relief could do after Sandy. He talked to Keith earlier this year. Keith told him how demand for food has increased while donations have decreased because people are having trouble all over. In response, Finamore raised a little over $2,000 from GoFundMe, personal friends, and small business owners.
He estimated that over 600 meals were distributed, plus a tray that he delivered to the Toms River Police Department.
Some of the people who drove up in their cars were actually living in those cars, he said. He counted 18 homeless people who stopped by to get something to eat.
He works as a housing counselor, and sees the impact that the cost of living is having on everyone. Taxes are increasing. Rent is going up.
Finamore said he had planned to run for office this year. He wanted to create a team of people and organizations to handle the basic needs for people throughout the state. Instead he took time away to donate time to make a difference for others. Perhaps other elected officials and candidates can carve out some time and help those less fortunate, too. In the meantime, he’ll be looking to start another fundraiser to help feed those in need.
For more information, visit obr.org or visit their social media pages.