EDITOR DANIEL CLIFTON
After Hurricane Dorian released its grip on The Bahamas earlier this month and the vast destruction became evident, Numinous Coffee Roasters owner Alex Payson wanted to do more than just offer “thoughts and prayers.”
“Thoughts and prayers are a great start, but what can you do after that,” asked Payson rhetorically.
On September 12, the Marble Falls businessman flew to Florida, where he spent the next three days working with Operation BBQ Relief. He was part of a volunteer crew that made meals for Dorian survivors then helped load them onto planes, which made several trips to The Bahamas to deliver the food.
As someone who loves cooking and serving people, Operation BBQ Relief is the perfect fit for Payson. Almost as soon as he arrived in Florida, he and the other volunteers jumped right in to help.
But a couple of days later, with another tropical storm moving across The Bahamas, the flights were grounded. On September 16, the deliveries resumed, this time with the help of Miss Montana, a Douglas C-47 Skytrain.
Payson’s first experience with traveling for natural disaster relief efforts was after Hurricane Harvey hit the Texas Gulf Coast in 2017. The storm left a wake of destruction in Southeast Texas. Upon seeing the flooding, Payson and former firefighter Jonathan Hammond headed out.
“There was all that flooding, and I had a boat, so I thought I can go help,” Payson said.
While the devastation was immense, Payson witnessed something even bigger: the hearts of the people who put their lives on hold to help.
“Everyone was doing what needed to be done,” Payson said. “There was no hierarchy, just people helping each other.”
When he returned, Payson decided he wanted to continue helping those in need. He began following food-oriented relief programs such as World Central Kitchen and Operation BBQ Relief on social media.
When Dorian struck The Bahamas, Payson’s name was already on lists of potential volunteers, and when Operation BBQ Relief put out the call, he jumped on board. Operation BBQ Relief has a small paid staff, but the rest are volunteers. Like Payson, many have jobs, so they can only volunteer for a few days at a time.
Payson was impressed with how well Operation BBQ Relief operated as it trained volunteers and kept things moving — even when weather grounded flights to The Bahamas. The operation uses a semi-trailer outfitted with about five barbecue setups and smokers to cook thousands of pounds of meat during the day.
Organizations such as Operation BBQ Relief are like “food first responders,” Payson said. It has been around since May 2011 and travels to disaster areas across the United States. The Bahamas was Operation BBQ Relief’s first international relief effort.
But, Payson pointed out, there are plenty of volunteer opportunities in Burnet County, especially when it comes to food. Payson, who is a Marble Falls Independent School District board member, noted that Burnet County Hunger Alliance works to address food insecurity in the area.
“There is this sense of adventure when you go, you know, to Florida or somewhere to help in a disaster, but you don’t have to travel to help,” he said. “I think you can make a difference right here.
“That’s what I would encourage,” he added. “Volunteer here if you can.”