At least two food truck owners had personal reasons for giving their product away Sunday in an effort to raise money for Garfield County residents affected by the Lodgepole Complex fire.
Ashley Robichaux, owner of Cajun Phatty’s, is from New Iberia, Louisiana. “We know a thing or two about rebuilding” following devastating hurricanes, she said as her crew prepared fried shrimp, french fries and pork and sausage jambalaya for the large and community-minded crowd.
“We are all too familiar with hurricanes,” she said. “We’ve built and rebuilt. We’ll take any opportunity to help the community we can."
Rick Hamilton of Montana Outlaw BBQ, who with his sons Tyrel and Justin form one of the nation’s elite competitive barbecue squads, said a fraternity brother lost his Garfield County ranch in the fire.
“We’re not food truck guys — we’re a competitive team,” he said while setting up Sunday afternoon for the event Billings Supports Fire Victims in Garfield County, held in the parking lot outside of Canyon Creek Brewing in the Billings West End. “But we know a lot of people involved, and it’s for a good cause.”
The Hamiltons prepared about 50 pounds of pulled pork and 80 pounds of brisket.
Mary Beth Beaulieu, who together with her husband Ray owns Big Guy BBQ, said they organized the fundraiser after having a talk with Garfield County Commissioner Teddy R. Robertson.
“At first we thought we’d go up there for a day or two and feed everyone we could,” Beaulieu said. “She told us, ‘We’ve got a lot of food. What we need are hay and fuel.’”
“I told Ray, ‘Honey, they don’t need our food. But we can give it away and send them the donations,’” she said.
Through social media, the couple got much more than the expected response: 81,000 people viewed the post, and 2,000 said they were definitely coming or interested in coming.
“We figure we’re ready to feed up to 1,500 people,” she said.
It’s a good thing, because by mid-event at 6 p.m., the lot “was packed,” Beaulieu said by telephone.
One donor paid $1,000 for a meal, and another ponied up $500. A few more came up with $250 donations, and several made $100 contributions.
All told, the six food trucks had raised about $13,000 halfway through Sunday's fun fundraiser.
“People can’t move. It’s absolutely packed,” Beaulieu said. “But they're having a great time.”
Among other items, Mike Cotta of Fat Taco cooked up 20 gallons of Portuguese beans, enough to take care of about 100 diners.
“We live in the country, so we’re always on fire watch,” he said. “We appreciate everything that firefighters do.”
“You guys have a lot of awesome food here,” said Britni Greenup of Billings. “It’s nice to get out and have some fun and have something important to contribute to.”
For Wendy Velman, Sunday's fundraiser could well presage more significant involvement in the lives of Garfield County residents.
"I work for the BLM," said Velman, one of the first diners to stride alongside the gathered food trucks late Sunday afternoon. "We'll be going there on rehabilitation work. I figure this is a way to help out on the private side."