With the holiday season around the corner, theÂ people of Opelika begin preparations for hostingÂ families, sharing laughter and spreading theÂ joy which comes along with the time of theÂ year. For Bill Schwenk & Robbie Hughes, co-owners of Bill andÂ Robbieâ€™s Excellent BBQ Adventure, the most important part ofÂ the holidays is giving.
In the spirit of giving, the pair has launched â€œOperationÂ Christmas Decor,â€ an initiative designed to provide ChristmasÂ trees to disabled veterans in the Opelika community. (SchwenkÂ and Hughes have a second effort at Christmas â€” The ExcellentÂ Christmas Adventure. Turn to page 58 for more information.)
The idea to provide Christmas trees to those in need came toÂ Schwenk while giving estimates for holiday decor in DecemberÂ 2020.
â€œLast year we decided when we were doing Christmas trees,Â I said â€˜hey man, letâ€™s get some Christmas trees for disabledÂ vets,â€™â€ Schwenk said. â€œI was transitioning out and was strugglingÂ through the transition of being a service member for 23 years andÂ then my whole life changed.â€
Schwenkâ€™s personal experience with the transition back toÂ civilian life inspired him to offer a helping hand to the fellowÂ veterans in his community.
â€œThatâ€™s a major struggle for a lot of veterans,â€ Schwenk said.Â â€œSo I wanted to just reach out to veterans and what I didnâ€™t wantÂ to see happen was some Vietnam war vet that couldnâ€™t put up aÂ tree â€” but loves the holidays â€” not have a tree in his house.â€
According to the 23-year veteran, finding members of theÂ military community can be difficult.
â€œVeterans are a little more closed off,â€ Schwenk said.Â â€œVeterans are a little harder to find. But I knew that already.â€
He has yet to let the challenge of locating these householdsÂ stop him from delivering holiday cheer.
â€œWe donâ€™t want those families to go without if we can beÂ part of the solution,â€ Schwenk said. â€œThat was just really inÂ an effort to reach out to the people of the community whoÂ are hurting or need help or just need somebody to care aboutÂ them.â€
While the focus for Schwenk and Hughesâ€™ â€œOperationÂ Christmas Decorâ€ remains emphasized on disabled veterans,Â the business partners aim to provide for any household in theÂ community who might need reaching out to at this time ofÂ year.
â€œI think â€” when you look at it â€” everybodyâ€™s goingÂ through struggles,â€ Schwenk said. â€œEverybodyâ€™s going throughÂ stuff. What Iâ€™ve learned is most people just want to understandÂ and know theyâ€™re part of a community and that theyâ€™re caredÂ about. So thatâ€™s kind of the whole point of what weâ€™re doing isÂ to make them feel like there are people who care about themÂ and that they are loved.â€
A self-described people person, Schwenk claims that gettingÂ to know the people in his community and offering a helpingÂ hand whenever possible has been enjoyable.
â€œI enjoy getting out and talking to people,â€ Schwenk said.Â â€œGetting out and feeding people, giving back when we can.â€
While giving back is of the utmost priority to Schwenk, theÂ veteran accredits the opportunity to help those in need to theÂ willingness of his partner to hold the same moral compass.
â€œThereâ€™s another thing I can say about my partner,â€ SchwenkÂ said. â€œThere is never once [when] Iâ€™ve come to him and saidÂ â€˜hey, I want to do thisâ€™ and he said no. Never. Heâ€™s never doneÂ that to me.â€
Schwenk is appreciative of Hughesâ€™ willingness to provideÂ for others even when money may have been tight.
â€œAnd when you talk about a new business â€” and sometimesÂ youâ€™re only making $200 a week â€” thatâ€™s huge,â€ SchwenkÂ said. â€œâ€¦ That list can get pretty big. It can add up over time.Â Eventually, somebody could look at you and say â€˜hey dude,Â weâ€™ve got to make money, we canâ€™t keep giving stuff away.â€™Â Iâ€™ve never had that problem. Never once.â€
Having a partner who is on the same page as himself hasÂ been important to Schwenk.
â€œThatâ€™s huge to have somebody to support me and be in aÂ partnership with somebody that does support you like that,â€Â Schwenk said. â€œBecause we have been able to do these otherÂ things. Weâ€™ve done all that and we will continue to do all that.â€
While many members of the Opelika community may lookÂ at the pair as a model for â€˜goodâ€™ people, the co-owners believeÂ that they are simply spreading acts of kindness that they feelÂ spiritually compelled to do.
â€œI donâ€™t necessarily think itâ€™s that weâ€™re good people,â€Â Schwenk said. â€œI think itâ€™s that we understand that we are notÂ good people. Weâ€™re very in tune that weâ€™re not perfect. WeÂ Bill and Robbie are who we are and I think partner would echo the same.â€
For Schwenk, providing for his community is not a quest forÂ self-righteousness; rather, a task which he feels has been givenÂ to him by the Lord.
â€œWeâ€™re imperfect people who know that the Lord has givenÂ us everything we have,â€ Schwenk said. â€œWe have to give back.Â I have no idea why the Lord put this on my heart, but He did.Â So weâ€™re going to do what weâ€™ve got to do.â€Â Although the small-business owner prefers to keep much ofÂ his community work to himself, he has elected to publicize hisÂ holiday operations in hopes that his neighbors will be willing toÂ provide him with contacts for families who might otherwise goÂ unaided.
â€œSome things Iâ€™ve got to keep between me and the Lord.Â I think the reason that this canâ€™t stay betweenÂ me and the Lord is that I canâ€™t identify all the people withoutÂ help. Iâ€™m not God; itâ€™s bigger than me â€¦ I need other peopleÂ to come to me and say â€˜Hey Bill, I have a family who needsÂ help.â€™â€
Bill and Robbieâ€™s Excellent BBQ Adventure begins OperationÂ Christmas Decor in 2021 with the hope to spread as much joyÂ within the Opelika community as possible. Information on howÂ to contribute to the pairâ€™s drive as well as contact informationÂ for the Kim Epperson â€œExtended Heartâ€ Foundation can beÂ located on the companyâ€™s Facebook page.