As more than 150 million Americans enjoyed a Labor Day without work, a tight-knit community of Red Bank barbecue enthusiasts held true on their dedication to assisting schools.
For the last 16 years, Red Bank Masonic Lodge members Jet Tyler and Jack Workman have helped out the special needs department at Red Bank Elementary with a Labor Day barbecue. The proceeds help teachers afford needed school supplies, one $8 plate at a time.
With more than 1,000 pounds of barbecue given out at the Red Bank Community Center, funding anything from drawing utensils to sturdy furniture is a possibility.
"We ask teachers for a wish list," Tyler said. "If we can buy everything, we'll buy everything. If we can't, we'll give what we can."
By the time the grill is completely clean, Workman said, the Masonic fundraiser brings in $600 to $700 every year. The duo previously has reached out to other assistance groups such as the Tri-State Resource & Advocacy Corporation, which provides translation devices for those with hearing disabilities.
On an individual level, some Freemasons volunteer to build wheelchair ramps for Red Bank citizens.
"We're not a large charity by any means," Workman said. "We can't take on everybody's problems, so we try to look for ways to help groups."
The barbecue was dreamed up by former Red Bank Mayor John Ramey, who asked Tyler and Workman to do the cooking. The early years were driven and genuine, but sometimes clumsy, Workman said.
"We started out cooking 350 pounds of meat the night before," Workman said. "It was almost disastrous."
Now, the several-day job is a detailed operation involving an air-conditioned truck for the cole slaw, thousands of styrofoam trays and a double-ended pork smoker. The annual event has seen up to 1,600 pounds of pork on the menu in some years.
Tyler prepares the feast's special barbecue sauce with simple ingredients: vinegar, lemons, cayenne pepper and ketchup. A heap of cole slaw and baked beans later, the community is always ready to eat.
"I spent too long sniffing it," said Marian Ingram, a Red Bank citizen. "I need to just hurry up and eat. It doesn't even look like I started."
Ingram, who has lived in Red Bank for several decades, collaborates with the Red Bank Neighborhood Pride Association. For her, Labor Day is not only a chance to give back, but an opportunity to enjoy what she does.
"Embarrassingly, this is my first year here," she said. "Since I bought my house, this is usually the weekend I do stuff like three-day projects."
Ingram works for Road-Tec, which makes asphalt paving machines for the Southeast and many other parts of the United States. As an industrial employee, she understands the value of labor to the American economy. Labor Day itself was a point of pride for her when working as a restaurant server, she said.
"I used to wait tables on holidays," she said. "Since I don't have the family here to do everything with -- a bazillion kids and fun stuff -- if someone needs me to come in, I'm always the one that shows up."
Workman, a Tennessee Valley Authority employee, pointed out that his barbecue event would be all for naught without the efforts of labor workers.
"You see how the lights are on? Somebody's making that happen," he said.
And when it comes to ensuring the school system -- located right down the hill from the barbecue smokers -- is getting what it needs, the lodge members are hoping to make that happen.
"When you take those [school supplies] over, one of those kids will reach out and say 'mister, I like you,'" Workman said. "You think that won't make you melt?"
Contact staff writer Jeff LaFave at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6592.