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Baked birds bound for the needy in Fort Mill

Ken Ramaley takes a turkey out of the smoker Wednesday morning in the parking lot at First Baptist Church in Fort Mill. He had been there since 9:30 p.m. Tuesday preparing and smoking turkeys for needy families in Fort Mill.
Ken Ramaley takes a turkey out of the smoker Wednesday morning in the parking lot at First Baptist Church in Fort Mill. He had been there since 9:30 p.m. Tuesday preparing and smoking turkeys for needy families in Fort Mill.

FORT MILL -- Throughout the night Tuesday, as temperatures dipped below 30 degrees, Ken Ramaley stood outside, watching over 40 turkeys that would be the centerpieces of Thanksgiving meals for families in need.

As he tended to the simmering birds during the wee hours in the parking lot of First Baptist Church in Fort Mill, he chopped 30 pounds of onions and prepared buckets full of spice rub. He got around 30 minutes of sleep.

But there were no regrets. Except, perhaps, that Ramaley wasn't able to cook more turkeys.

Ramaley is part of Catchafire for Q, a competitive Christian barbecue team that travels the Carolinas cooking 'que -- slang for barbecue -- and talking about the Bible. As the holidays approached, Ramaley said he realized his giant smoker might be useful for something other than barbecue competitions.

"My goal has always been to use it as much as possible because it's a significant capital investment, so I'm always looking for ways to use it," Ramaley said. "But the return isn't about making money. ... Sure, eventually, we'll win a competition. But for the moment, anyway, it's about trying to do good stuff."

Ramaley approached his Sunday school class at First Baptist with an idea to feed families in Fort Mill for Thanksgiving. He also spoke to friends Greg and Mia Pendarvis of Victory Sports Outreach, a sports ministry in Fort Mill. Together, the group set out to provide Thanks-giving dinners for 40 families.

The families were identified through Victory Sports' scholarship programs.

Volunteers from First Baptist "adopted" frozen turkeys. The volunteers paid for the turkeys, thawed them and prayed for the families that would receive them. On Tuesday and Wednesday, the adopt-ive turkey parents dropped their turkeys off with Ramaley to cook.

All day Wednesday, the cooked birds, along with donated canned goods and pies to complete the Thanksgiving meals, were to be delivered to families around Fort Mill.

Steve and Nancy Finch said they were happy to host a turkey in their refrigerator.

"We're always in Sunday school talking about helping families locally. You think everyone who lives around you have stuff, but you don't have to look far to realize they don't," Nancy Finch said.

Volunteers helped Ramaley set up tents in the First Baptist parking lot, prepare the onions and the spice rub. By 1 a.m. Wednesday, the group was gone and Ramaley was left on his own to watch the fire and turn the turkeys.

At 6 a.m., Ramaley had been awake for nearly 24 hours, except for a quick 30-minute nap on a cot beside the barbecue cooker. He'd continue to work throughout the day, turning turkeys and passing out cooked turkeys to volunteers for delivery.

Despite the cold weather and the lack of sleep, Ramaley is already planning for next year. He said he hopes to create a manual detailing how he and the volunteers organized the event and distribute the manual to other barbecue teams so they can initiate similar programs in their towns.

He also plans to enlist the help of local barbecue teams next year so the group can feed more families.

"Next year, I want the parking lot full of cookers," Ramaley said. "This idea didn't come up until August, but now our plan is, every time we go to a barbecue competition, talk to the others and say 'Hey, if you're not doing anything for Thanksgiving, come join us, or do something like this in your community.' The way I figure it, somebody had to do the first (Samaritan's Purse) shoebox."

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