After a hurricane hits, “We try to bring people some hope in the form of supplies and a hot meal,” said John Riesebeck, owner of Smokin’ J’s Real Texas BBQ in Gulfport.
And, each time, he gets help from the public filling a 26-foot rental truck with the items that storm survivors need when the power is out and everything is wet.
Currently, he’s accepting donations to take to North Carolina on Sunday, September 23 in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence in the form of physical things like non-perishable food for humans and pets, drinking water, cleaning supplies, hygiene products, flashlights, batteries, dry towels and toilet paper.
People can bring items during business hours to 5145 Gulfport Boulevard S., or they can call Riesebeck at 214-542-9587 and he’ll unlock the truck as he lives nearby. The restaurant’s phone number is 727-329-8624.
If people don’t want to shop or lug around supplies, they can also donate a Sam’s Club gift card or cash for gas, he said.
“What drives us to do this are the smiles on people’s faces,” said Riesebeck. “You can see the appreciation for what you’re doing. And, it’s the right thing to do.”
Riesebeck takes care of the hot meal with sides because his restaurant has a portable commercial-sized meat smoker on a trailer that can be taken to other locations.
Sometimes, really remote locations.
Riesebeck started with Hurricane Matthew in 2016 by going to Edgewater on Florida’s east coast and was planning to help out in Texas, his home state, during Hurricane Harvey in 2017, but then Irma hit in his backyard. That year, he headed to Immokalee.
“My parents taught me to treat people right,” he said. “You help people when you can. Everybody has hard times – myself included.”
After a hurricane strikes, groups like the Red Cross, Salvation Army and National Guard all tend to head to the same focal point areas, he said.
Riesebeck is different. He works with people at local fire departments and emergency operations centers to find communities in need but that are not at the epicenters of national-level help.
“It’s the little guy that’s out in basically Gulfport that gets forgotten,” he said.
Once on scene, teams of local people, like the fire department’s Community Emergency Response Team, volunteer to help Riesebeck set up and tear down the compact operation. The relief site includes tents and tables where people can select the supplies they need from a store-like set up and a hot food line where they can pick up a meal plate, he said.
“It takes about eight hours to empty the truck and feed everyone,” said Riesebeck. “We typically see anywhere from 500 to 700 people.”
While he’s on the road, he’ll be posting photos, videos and doing live streaming, if technology allows, on his business Facebook page: facebook.com/SmokinJsRealTexasBBQ
And, he plans to continue his relief efforts in the future, when needed.
“It’s what we do every time there’s a hurricane that comes around,” said Riesebeck. “We could be in the same boat some time and I just hope there would be somebody that would come over and help us. Sometimes, it just takes a little kindness to get back up on your feet.”