Numinous Coffee Roasters owner Alex Payson of Marble Falls went to Port Charlotte, Florida, where he volunteered with Operation BBQ Relief to feed Hurricane Ian survivors. Courtesy photo
Marble Falls coffee shop owner Alex Payson switched to serving barbecue during a four-day trip to Port Charlotte, Florida, after Hurricane Ian ripped through the southwestern portion of the state on Sept. 28.
The Numinous Coffee Roasters founder volunteered with Operation BBQ Relief, which served food to those impacted by the Category 4 storm.
“It’s some of the most impactful and meaningful work you can do,” said Payson, who is also a Marble Falls Independent School District board trustee. “You feel like you have a purpose. At the end of the day, you feel pretty exhausted, but you feel pretty good, too.”
Among more than 100 volunteers, Payson helped serve nearly 70,000 meals to survivors, many of whom had not eaten a hot meal in days.
“This morning (Oct. 5), a car pulled up at 6 a.m. with a family that had been displaced, and they were looking for where FEMA was,” Payson said. “They told me they hadn’t had a hot meal in a week and didn’t know where to go. That’s why we’re here: to help people like them.”
Operation BBQ Relief is a nonprofit that “delivers the healing power of barbecue in times of need,” according to its website. The organization feeds first responders and communities affected by natural disasters, cooking and dishing out pulled pork, chicken, sausage, turkey, vegetables, rolls, and rice.
On Wednesday, Payson’s final day in Florida, the National Beef Council delivered two semi-trucks filled with briskets. He worked with other volunteers to prepare 400 briskets for hungry residents before making the trek home to Marble Falls.
“Normally, the goal is to feed as many people as efficiently as possible, so buying brisket isn’t the way to do that,” Payson said. “It got donated, so we were able to do that.”
Working 96 hours over the past four days, Payson barely had an opportunity to see the actual devastation left in Ian’s wake. He was mostly confined to a work tent propped up in parking lot.
“I’ve learned what a parking lot of a mall looks like,” he said with a laugh. “I’ve had to look online to see pictures of what it really looks like (in devastated areas). I’ve been in essentially a big kitchen city with a whole lot of campers the whole time I’ve been here.”
Payson joined Operation BBQ Relief three years ago after another hurricane, Dorian, laid down a similar path of destruction across Florida. He found the nonprofit by combing through a website that aggregates volunteer groups, scanning for opportunities that fit his skillset.
“I know how to feed people,” Payson said. “I know how to cook. I felt like I knew how to do it, and I really just wanted to do something to help.”
He said serving food to those who need it most is a rewarding feeling, although he sometimes needs time for it to sink in.
“In the moment, you don’t really realize it,” Payson said. “You’re just doing your job and thinking about what the next task is. At the end of the day, when you actually get to take your shoes off and sit down, that’s when it tends to hit you.”
Payson encourages anyone interested in making a difference to find a group that complements their abilities.
“There’s opportunities for anybody that wants to help,” he said. “There’s always a way to help with what you know how to do.”