This BBQ Joint Grills Up Comfort Food For Storm-Ravaged Iowa Residents, Free of Charge

When straight-line winds blew through his beloved adopted home of Cedar Rapids, one local hero leapt into the fray with his own very special brand of barbecue to the rescue.

We’re all familiar with the wreckage wrought by hurricanes and tornadoes, but a derecho, with wide-ranging, sustained winds sometimes in excess of 100 miles per hour, can have equally disastrous consequences.

After a series of derechos tore across a swath the Midwest on Monday, August 10, leaving a swath of destruction in their wake, Willie Fairley, owner of the iconic local eatery Willie Ray’s Q Shack, was driven by his strong sense of community to selflessly volunteer his services and his grill, serving up as many as 400 free meals a day for neighbors in need.

“[We’re] giving out food, doing whatever we can,” Fairley told KGAN News. “Help[ing] the neighbors move trees. I brought the grill home and cooked for everybody and somehow we’re here.”

Cedar Rapids felt the brunt of the derechos’ fury. Approximately 50 people with storm-related injuries were hospitalized, and according to Cedar Rapids Fire Chief Greg Smith, more than 800 residential and commercial buildings suffered full or partial collapse of the roof, walls, ceiling, or floors.

“It’s devastating you know,” Fairley told KGAN, “a city you’ve been in for 18 years and you see it just crumble down.”

A City Comes Together
Fairley set the BBQ ball in play and social media has kept it rolling. Donations keep pouring in. “The main reason we’re doing it free is because there’s been a lot of people donate to us to help us keep feeding people,” he told CNN. “So, we figure we’ll just do it to make sure everybody gets something.”

Even after the derecho cleanup is over, Fairley plans to help out with meals for a homeless shelter at least once a week. “People keep donating, so we’re going to be giving out food for a long time.”

Thomas Clark, who helps Fairley prep and distribute meals, sums up his community’s feelings about Fairley. “He’s doing such a great job and we’re proud of where he’s taken this and how he started from nothing now he’s out here doing it with honestly nothing and just to do it. He’s not asking for anything. I’ve known him for 15 [or] 16 years and he’s always been that way,” Clark told KGAN.

Fairley’s efforts are so appreciated, Willie Ray’s Q Shack has been nominated for the Discover Eat it Forward program, a contest that awards $25,000 prizes to Black-owned restaurants.

But as much as it’s great to be recognized for his efforts, Fairley believes being able to give back has been the greatest reward he’s taken away from the whole experience, saying, “I wish I could put my shoes on and everybody [would] know how I feel on the inside.”