Brainerd Kiwanians say vandalism of their fundraising venue and a $20,000 theft of equipment won't prevent them from hosting their annual summer barbecue for its 65th year.
The theft may initially have scorched members' spirit, but now it has lit a fire beneath them to see that the fundraiser goes on as planned July 29-30.
"I can honestly say we never considered not having the barbecue, but we did realize that we would have to have it somewhere else," said Brainerd Kiwanis Club president JoBeth Kavanaugh.
"We are moving the barbecue site this year to the Tennessee Baptist Children's Home on Lee Highway," she said.
Carl Willis, East Tennessee regional vice president of the Children's Home, said the TBCH offered use of its new barbecue area in reciprocation for the Kiwanians' support.
"Kiwanis has supported our ministry for years through this barbecue. The proceeds they make come to us through different gifts or grants each year," Willis said.
"Additionally, they have usually given us meat that's left over for us to use on campus," he added.
Kiwanian Mark Sullivan said he discovered the site behind the former 21st Century Academy had been vandalized two weeks ago when he went to check the area in preparation for next month's event.
Returning with committee members, he said they found the fire pits, storage and walk-in cooler had been vandalized. Bolt cutters had been used to cut through the cooler's locks and thieves had ground off iron doors to get to the fire pits.
Thieves took a commercial double oven, warming tray server, all serving utensils and trays, fire-pit grates and even the telephone.
None of it was insured.
"We have a warming oven that's between 800 and 900 pounds. It's a big stainless-steel oven that had to have taken three or four people to get out," said Sullivan.
"The pits themselves had iron grates in the bottom. They're gone. There were huge cast-iron covers that helped smoke the meat. Those covers had to be lifted with counterweights because they each weighed a couple hundred pounds. Some of them are gone," he said.
"Even the scales and the metal poles for our signs were gone. Thieves go to scrap yards and sell the metal," said Kavanaugh.
With a new site secured, Kavanaugh said the club's immediate need is replacing its commercial restaurant equipment. Although Sticky Fingers partners with the club to prepare the fundraiser's meat, club members prepare slaw and baked beans, weigh and package bulk meat, and serve plates. All their stainless-steel utensils, cooking containers and serving trays are gone.
"The stainless trays and lids are more than $1,200 to replace alone," said Kavanaugh. She added the club is also having to print more signage to raise awareness of its new location.
"We are asking for the community's help in two ways," said the president.
"First, plan to buy barbecue tickets this year for your family, friends and employees. Second, please consider making a tax-deductible donation of some kind to our event. We need the community's support to maintain this effort."
More than $2.5 million has been raised by Brainerd Kiwanians over six decades. All proceeds go back into the community through Kiwanis grants and programs. Kavanaugh estimated the club helps 30 nonprofits every year.
Kavanaugh said club members had discussed moving the barbecue site when the former 21st Century Academy closed. This theft has forced them to take action.
"It's time for a new beginning," she said, "but it's kind of overwhelming the amount of things we need to handle in a short time. I'm sure our members will pull it off."
If You Go
How to Help
To make a donation, make check payable to Brainerd Kiwanis Youth Foundation, and mail to P.O. Box 8668, Chattanooga, TN 37414.