The first time Don Barcik helped chop the smoked and dried pork and beef in the early morning hours before the Knights of Columbus Labor Day BBQ fundraiser in Rome “many, many years ago,” he used a Boy Scout ax.

“If you come here at 6 a.m. while the chopping is going on, there’s usually a deafening noise as all the knives or cleavers come down on the big cutting boards,” Barcik said Monday as three generations of his family worked their usual station in the back of the Rome Civic Center, mixing the chopped meat with the “secret” barbecue sauce recipe and packing the final product into 1-pound Styrofoam containers. “This is something my family has been doing since this event first started 52 years ago. My oldest son Mike was probably about 4 years old.”

Earlier that morning, Barcik had been surprised by a hand-embroidered apron created to honor the memory of his late wife Judy, who also had worked the annual St. Mary’s Catholic Church fundraiser throughout the years until her passing in May of last year.

“That made me cry,” said Barcik as he wore the white apron with stitching that read “Remembering Judy”and included two hearts on either side. Judy Barcik and six other volunteers who passed in 2018 and 2019 were memorialized on a large board outside the entrance of the Civic Center.

Across the room from the Barcik family, Andres Lopez and Rey Garcia worked with others from St. Mary’s to fill and cap more than 1,000 cups of Brunswick stew.

“We’ve been doing this since 6 a.m., but some of the kids that are helping out started working at 11 last night,” Garcia said, referring to a 6-year-old boy who managed to sleep for a couple of hours in the back of his family’s pick-up truck at about 2 a.m. before getting back to work. “We love this.”

In the dining hall, 15-month-old Grant Hollis V appeared to be loving tiny bites of barbecued pork and beans his father Grant Hollis IV was feeding him as his mother Samantha held him steady.

They said this was their second visit to the event after moving to Rome from South Carolina last year.

“Last year we just saw the signs and decided to try it,” Samantha said as a big smile came across her baby’s face as he swallowed another bite. “It’s delicious and for a good cause.”

Ron Bennetti, past Grand Knight who has worked the event for many years now, said last year they cleared $32K for local charities such as Boys and Girls Club, YMCA and Hospitality House.

Bennetti explained that many of the volunteers started working on getting the meat ready Friday night and don’t stop until the food runs out and the place is cleaned up.

“The first group in here was the bean group,” Bennetti said. “They made 24 trays of beans. Last year they sold out, so they made a bit more this year.”

Patrons purchased tickets for $10 a piece that allowed them either a plate of pork, beef or chicken ribs that came with sides of Brunswick stew, baked beans, bread, chips and tea or separate 1-pound containers of the meat.

One of the most popular items that sold out by 11:30 was the 1/3-rack of barbecued ribs going for $8. By noon, the beef was gone and before 1 p.m. the stew stacks were empty.

Barcik said that traditionally, 90% of their sales are pork, so they’ve gotten into the habit of cooking less beef.

Something else that will probably become an annual tradition during the fundraiser is a blood drive by Blood Assurance. For the first time, Blood Assurance was invited to park its “Vein Voyager” mobile donation facility outside the Civic Center during the barbecue. Those who donated received a free T-shirt and were entered into a drawing for a $200 Target gift card.

Inside the Voyager, young couple Joel Almaraz and Anna Cambron were situated on donor beds across the narrow hallway from each other. They’d already worked through the night to help out with the St. Mary’s fundraiser and this was something else they felt compelled to do.

“I’ve been a member of Knights of Columbus for six years, ever since I was 18,” Almaraz said as his older sister, Montserrat Almaraz, sported ice packs on her neck and legs upon becoming lightheaded after her donation. “My father is in Knights of Columbus, as well. We all simply just want to make a difference in several ways. It gives us a lot of personal satisfaction.”

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