COLUMBIA — For Rob Irvin, Saturday's 55th annual fundraiser at Rock Bridge Elementary School was a chance to continue a tradition that has been in his family for years.
The Rock Bridge Elementary Annual Chicken BBQ is the school's only fundraiser and when all is said and done, the school hopes to have raised over $20,000, event co-chair Cindy Hall said.
The event feeds about 2,000 people each year and the proceeds support the school in things such as field trips, playground equipment, technology and teacher development.
Irvin has volunteered for the past four years as pit chairman and was in charge of barbecuing the nearly 3,000 pounds of chicken ordered for the festival this year.
"My dad helped cook when I was in school here," Irvin said. "We had some good times looking forward to it, like my kids do now."
The chicken was the foundation of the festival and to make sure it was cooked just right, parent volunteers like Irvin and Chris Farmer started preparing at 6:30 a.m.
"We have to get the chicken on the rack, and then we are constantly working," Farmer said. "We have to keep them wet and flip them while they cook."
This year, volunteers ordered 50 cases of half- and quarter-chickens, which are 53 pounds each, as well as 11 boxes of drumsticks.The volunteers doused the chicken on the barbecue pit's racks with sauce and brine using paint rollers and spray bottles.
"We have changed things a bit, but it is still basically the same sauce they used to use," Irvin said.
To round out the meals, the kitchen prepared another 144 pounds of green beans, 546 pounds of applesauce, 2,016 dinner rolls and 300 pies. In all, the volunteers expected to sell about 2,000 meals Saturday night.
There was also a live and silent auction for adults and numerous activity rooms for the children, including face painting, carnival games, video games and a pottery room, event co-chair Christi Farmer said.
"Seeing parents get involved and giving them a chance to participate in whats going on in the school, as well as spend time with the kids, is great," Rock Bridge fifth grade teacher Heather Rice said.
The chicken barbecue is almost entirely run by parent volunteers, some in their first year, and others, like Irvin, in their fourth or fifth.
"Hearing from people come through the food line who had done my job was fun," parent and volunteer Gretchen Cleppe said. "It is such a great tradition, and the community embraces it."
At the end of the night, the unsold chickens and meals are delivered to St. Francis House, a temporary shelter for men, and Harbor House, an emergency and transitional shelter.
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