By Published On: December 6, 2021Categories: Holidays

With the holiday season around the corner, the people of Opelika begin preparations for hosting families, sharing laughter and spreading the joy which comes along with the time of the year. For Bill Schwenk & Robbie Hughes, co-owners of Bill and Robbie’s Excellent BBQ Adventure, the most important part of the holidays is giving.

In the spirit of giving, the pair has launched “Operation Christmas Decor,” an initiative designed to provide Christmas trees to disabled veterans in the Opelika community. (Schwenk and Hughes have a second effort at Christmas — The Excellent Christmas Adventure. Turn to page 58 for more information.)

The idea to provide Christmas trees to those in need came to Schwenk while giving estimates for holiday decor in December 2020.

“Last year we decided when we were doing Christmas trees, I said ‘hey man, let’s get some Christmas trees for disabled vets,’” Schwenk said. “I was transitioning out and was struggling through the transition of being a service member for 23 years and then my whole life changed.”

Schwenk’s personal experience with the transition back to civilian life inspired him to offer a helping hand to the fellow veterans in his community.

“That’s a major struggle for a lot of veterans,” Schwenk said. “So I wanted to just reach out to veterans and what I didn’t want to see happen was some Vietnam war vet that couldn’t put up a tree — but loves the holidays — not have a tree in his house.”

According to the 23-year veteran, finding members of the military community can be difficult.

“Veterans are a little more closed off,” Schwenk said. “Veterans are a little harder to find. But I knew that already.”

He has yet to let the challenge of locating these households stop him from delivering holiday cheer.

“We don’t want those families to go without if we can be part of the solution,” Schwenk said. “That was just really in an effort to reach out to the people of the community who are hurting or need help or just need somebody to care about them.”

While the focus for Schwenk and Hughes’ “Operation Christmas Decor” remains emphasized on disabled veterans, the business partners aim to provide for any household in the community who might need reaching out to at this time of year.

“I think — when you look at it — everybody’s going through struggles,” Schwenk said. “Everybody’s going through stuff. What I’ve learned is most people just want to understand and know they’re part of a community and that they’re cared about. So that’s kind of the whole point of what we’re doing is to make them feel like there are people who care about them and that they are loved.”

A self-described people person, Schwenk claims that getting to know the people in his community and offering a helping hand whenever possible has been enjoyable.

“I enjoy getting out and talking to people,” Schwenk said. “Getting out and feeding people, giving back when we can.”

While giving back is of the utmost priority to Schwenk, the veteran accredits the opportunity to help those in need to the willingness of his partner to hold the same moral compass.

“There’s another thing I can say about my partner,” Schwenk said. “There is never once [when] I’ve come to him and said ‘hey, I want to do this’ and he said no. Never. He’s never done that to me.”

Schwenk is appreciative of Hughes’ willingness to provide for others even when money may have been tight.

“And when you talk about a new business — and sometimes you’re only making $200 a week — that’s huge,” Schwenk said. “… That list can get pretty big. It can add up over time. Eventually, somebody could look at you and say ‘hey dude, we’ve got to make money, we can’t keep giving stuff away.’ I’ve never had that problem. Never once.”

Having a partner who is on the same page as himself has been important to Schwenk.

“That’s huge to have somebody to support me and be in a partnership with somebody that does support you like that,” Schwenk said. “Because we have been able to do these other things. We’ve done all that and we will continue to do all that.”

While many members of the Opelika community may look at the pair as a model for ‘good’ people, the co-owners believe that they are simply spreading acts of kindness that they feel spiritually compelled to do.

“I don’t necessarily think it’s that we’re good people,” Schwenk said. “I think it’s that we understand that we are not good people. We’re very in tune that we’re not perfect. We Bill and Robbie are who we are and I think partner would echo the same.”

For Schwenk, providing for his community is not a quest for self-righteousness; rather, a task which he feels has been given to him by the Lord.

“We’re imperfect people who know that the Lord has given us everything we have,” Schwenk said. “We have to give back. I have no idea why the Lord put this on my heart, but He did. So we’re going to do what we’ve got to do.” Although the small-business owner prefers to keep much of his community work to himself, he has elected to publicize his holiday operations in hopes that his neighbors will be willing to provide him with contacts for families who might otherwise go unaided.

“Some things I’ve got to keep between me and the Lord. I think the reason that this can’t stay between me and the Lord is that I can’t identify all the people without help. I’m not God; it’s bigger than me … I need other people to come to me and say ‘Hey Bill, I have a family who needs help.’”

Bill and Robbie’s Excellent BBQ Adventure begins Operation Christmas Decor in 2021 with the hope to spread as much joy within the Opelika community as possible. Information on how to contribute to the pair’s drive as well as contact information for the Kim Epperson “Extended Heart” Foundation can be located on the company’s Facebook page.

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