Joe Bryant loves BBQ. But, more importantly, he loves his community. Within that community, he sees a great need. Joe has found the marriage of those two loves by a monthly giving to Lost Sheep Ministries fight to help feed homeless men, women and children. In times like these, its folks like Joe that make Knoxville better. Something we should all strive for, getting better, here on the precipice of the holiday season.
Knoxify: You’ve described BBQ as a hobby. What made you get into making BBQ?
Joe Bryant: Aside from the fact I love to eat real BBQ, I love the community aspect of it. In the truest sense, to BBQ means to gather around a fire, and forgo the modern rush and instant gratification. Real BBQ takes time. You can’t fake that. And I love the gathering and the fun. A great BBQ just seems to make people happy. I love that.
K: How did you connect with Lost Sheep Ministries?
JB: I’d been fortunate enough to be on the board of Knoxville Leadership Foundation, and they work with Lost Sheep. Where I really got to know them was my friend Ben Esterday, who’s worked with Lost Sheep for a long time. He invited me to come see what they do one Wednesday night. I fell in love with Maxine Raines, and what they’re doing under the bridge.
They get a ton of food donated to them, and God bless the companies that donate. But it’s mostly leftovers. The stuff that didn’t sell the first time. I’d been thinking about the idea of “First Fruits,” and how God calls us to give our best. It seemed like a fun idea to see how it would go over if we started helping feed with our BBQ. It’s just BBQ, so nothing fancy. But it’s the best we know how to make it. When I cook for my family and friends, I make it the exact same way as when we cook for Lost Sheep. It’s our best. Without saying anything, I think that comes across to the people we’re feeding. It resonates. You can nourish someone with food physically. But when you show someone you care about them, they’re nourished mentally and emotionally.
K: How often do you all feed the homeless?
JB: We feed on the last Wednesday of each month.
K: About how many are you able to feed?
JB: It’s just a guess, but the crowds have been between 400 and 700 people. Most people are surprised the first time they help to see so many folks that are in need. I was blown away to see the size of the crowds early on.
K: Where do you normally set up?
JB: Under the I-40 bridge, not far from the Salvation Army in downtown Knoxville. It sounds kind of weird, “under the bridge,” but the reality is that it’s under the interstate there that’s 8 lanes wide or whatever it is. It’s all graveled and level, a great place to have it. Essentially just a huge covered outdoor pavilion with an 80 foot ceiling. Completely in the dry.
K: Is there anyway people can help?
JB: People are welcome to come help us prepare the meat. I smoke it all day but starting about 6:00 p.m. under the bridge. We need volunteers to help us take the smoked meat and break it down to smaller chunks, so we can pull and chop it for sandwiches.
But the biggest thing I ask people to do is just raise their awareness that we have so many folks in need. People are often fearful of what they don’t know or understand. Getting to see what’s happening, and where folks are, has been helpful to people that don’t normally cross paths with the people in need. There are some that are mentally ill and some that are kind of distant. But by and large, the folks in need are just regular people that are in a bad spot and need a hand. I get more “thank you’s” and hugs downtown than just about anywhere else I cook.