116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — As he prepares for his third trip down South to provide humanitarian relief in the form of smoked barbecue food, Willie Ray Fairley said he doesn’t think twice about packing up anymore.
“It’s more of an automatic thing I want to do. When people don’t have places to turn to, someone has to step up and get those guys something,” he said. “If you lost your whole home, the least someone can do is feed you. I’m not a carpenter, so I can’t build a home, but I can feed you while someone else does.”
The barbecue legend turned philanthropist, who became known for his generosity when he started feeding Cedar Rapids neighborhoods without power after the derecho in 2020, is preparing to leave Thursday for southwestern Kentucky.
The death toll in Kentucky is now over 70 following Friday and Saturday tornadoes Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear called “one of the toughest nights in Kentucky history." One of the most devastated sites from tornadoes is the city of Mayfield, where dozens are feared dead under the rubble of a candle factory.
Fairley will plan to close his Q Shack on Blairs Ferry Road NE from Thursday to Monday. He will be in the Mayfield area, but plays each trip by ear when he arrives to go where help is needed most.
By Monday, he had organized most of the equipment needed to make the trip and has enough food on hand for the mission with a fresh shipment of meat and supplies — something that can’t be taken for granted by restaurants with widespread supply chain disruptions today.
If you want to donate to Willie Ray Fairley as he makes the trip to Kentucky to feed those devastated by tornadoes, you can do so through Venmo or in person.
To donate through Venmo, send money to: @WillieRaysQShack (Willie Fairley).
To donate cash in person, drop donations off at: Willie Ray’s Q Shack, 288 Blairs Ferry Rd. NE in Cedar Rapids.
“It costs thousands and thousands,” he said, particularly with the cost of food being higher than usual. “It’s quite expensive.”
Diesel for one 26-foot truck used each trip costs roughly $3.50 per gallon, he said — $170 to fill up — plus $100 to fill a Duramax truck, the cost of fuel for other vehicles in the fleet used during the trip and hotel costs for folks who help out.
But with his own cash and donations from folks who seem to be eager to help the cause, judging by social media reactions, he doesn’t think twice about the expenses.
“When you want to help someone, I don’t really even look at the cost. We just go and do it,” he said.
Bridge Under the Bridge gathers supplies
Bridge Under the Bridge, also no stranger to stepping up when disaster strikes, will be traveling to Kentucky as well as it gathers donations in partnership with Essex Family Construction of Cedar Rapids.
“We actually watched the devastation happen. We have family in Kentucky and Illinois, not where the disaster happened, but not far from it,” said Bridgette Williams-Robinson, who started the not-for-profit when her family started feeding Cedar Rapids after last year’s derecho.
So she reached out to a friend who posted pictures of the devastation to see how she could help.
Thanks to Essex Family Construction, the organization will have a means to transport water, non-perishable food, diapers, batteries, blankets and other necessities in Mayfield and Bowling Green, Kentucky.
Starting Wednesday, Williams-Robinson will travel down for as long as she can with her family of nine to help distribute necessities and serve hot meals. The family may also stop in Edwardsville, Illinois, where an Amazon warehouse was also hit hard by the string of tornadoes. The death toll there was six as of Monday evening.
Essex Construction will leave on Dec. 20 to distribute supplies.
In addition to essentials and Walmart or Sam’s Club gift cards to purchase gas for generators and continuous essentials, Williams-Robinson is trying to encourage the donation of small toys — think items like Barbies, Legos, stuffed animals and Hot Wheels — to kids whose Christmas will be disrupted this year. The last displacement estimate relayed to her was 250 families.
If you’d like to donate to the effort being organized by Bridge Under the Bridge and Essex Family Construction, here’s what you can donate and where:
What to donate: Water, diapers and wipes, hygiene items, cleaning supplies, blankets, batteries, non-perishable food, gift cards to Walmart or Sam’s Club to purchase gasoline for generators, gift cards for Kroger and Meijer, which can be purchased online, toys and fun holiday items for children this Christmas like Barbie dolls, toy cars, stuffed animals or gingerbread house kits.
Where: Donations must be dropped off by Monday, Dec. 20 to one of the following locations, each with its own hours.
1. Believers In Grace, 8600 C Ave NE in Cedar Rapids. Monday through Saturday 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.
2. True Value on Mt. Vernon Rd during store hours.
3. Clean Core Inc. at 1722 Southview Dr NW in Cedar Rapid at any time.
“That’s a really tough spot for me,” Williams-Robinson said. “When (the derecho) happened for us, it was summer so we had time to bounce back.”
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