Swadley's Bar-B-Que lends a hand

Thursday, October 2nd 2008, 6:20 pm
By: News 9

By Audrey Esther, News9.com INsite Team

BETHANY, Okla. -- The Swadley family is best known for their bar-b-que restaurants, Swadley's Bar-B-Que. However, when disaster strikes the Swadleys and their employees are also known for offering a helping hand.

"We traveled right through the eye of the hurricane. We had to put ourselves right in the line of fire," Brent Swadley, co-owner of Swadley's Bar-B-Que said of traveling through the eye of Hurricane Gustav.

Just days after Hurricane Gustav hit the Gulf Coast employees of the Swadley's Emergency Relief Team, or S.E.R.T, geared up. S.E.R.T members loaded up two mobile kitchens and headed south to help those helping with the cleanup.

"It is fully equipped, 100 percent self-contained. It is propane operated and runs off of a diesel generator, so we don't have to have electricity. We don't have to have natural gas," Don Hanks, co-owner of the restaurants half-million dollar mobile kitchen, said.  

S.E.R.T fed about 1,500 emergency workers three times a day; most who worked for state power companies. S.E.R.T traveled first to assist in Mississippi and then to Texas after Hurricane Ike. However, Swadley's employees served more than thousands of hot meals.

"We provide music, provide entertainment, provide a barber shop, provide a masseuse," Swadley said.

All services provided by S.E.R.T are paid for by state power companies.

Recruiting employees for the disaster relief team isn't difficult Swadley said. In fact, more usually volunteer than is needed. 

"Our staff, they give up their family, they give up their children and that's hard to do, really tough," he said.   

A desperate request from a Texas couple for a bag of ice made a lasting impression on Swadley.

"Our children have medication that needs to stay refrigerated. We can't get ice," Swadley remembered the couple telling him. "We've driven as far as we can with our gas, in fact we may not make it home. We just need ice for our children."

Swadley paused after recalling the incident then said, "You're out there and it's tough."

This was Jeff Ecker's first time as a S.E.R.T member. He said it was both a powerful and emotional expereince that was worth the 20 hour work days.

"It's this whole emotional experience of getting to help the people and how they respond to us and our presence there," Ecker said.  

There's a chance Swadley could return to Texas to help, and Swadley said it's likely that not much has changed.

"Anybody that lives in Galveston, they're homeless," Swadley said.

It's a situation that Oklahomans, perhaps more than most, understand.

"We know what it's like to lose a town. A town in Oklahoma could disappear just like that," Swadley said.

S.E.R.T also provided services during the ice storm of 2007 and after Hurricane Katrina.