By Published On: December 8, 2021Categories: Holidays, Travel

Bill Schwenk and Robbie Hughes once were ranger roommates. Now, the two coown a barbecue business, “Bill and Robbie’s Excellent BBQ Adventure.”

In October 2020, Schwenk was newly out of the military and Hughes was out of work. Hughes randomly called up Schwenk one autumn afternoon and said, “What are we doing tomorrow? I quit my job.”

Before the call, Schwenk had gone to appraise a house in his area. At the house, Schwenk was met with a kind mother, a disabled father and a son on the Autism spectrum.

The mother expressed that she was heartbroken that they could not visit their grandparents up north that holiday season, due to COVID.

Perhaps the most heartbroken member, however, was her son. Each year, his grandparents hung up Christmas lights, which was his favorite thing to look forward to.

Without hesitating, Schwenk offered to hang up the lights for them, accompanied by Hughes. After the lights had been strung, Hughes hurried to find Schwenk. The son was outside, marveling with “extreme joy,” as Schwenk put it, at his new lights.

“Did you see that?” Hughes asked, with tears in his eyes. “We can’t charge them for this. That was enough.”

Thus, the “Excellent Christmas Adventure” was born.  Following its creation, Hughes came up with a name for their barbecue food truck business, as well: “Bill and Robbie’s Excellent BBQ Adventure.”

Hughes was proud of the name; Schwenk found it ridiculous. Nevertheless, it stuck.

“Everybody loves it,” Schwenk said.

For Bill and Robbie’s Excellent BBQ Adventure, Schwenk handles the business and Hughes handles the barbecue. Schwenk said that Hughes can make anything taste good. Hughes’ love for cooking — particularly barbecue — comes from the backyard, and his talent comes from his mom.

This year, the business has been serving veterans in the community, as well as providing meals for the East Alabama Food Bank and a local Down Syndrome fundraiser. Through partnerships with local Autism and Down Syndrome foundations, the Excellent Christmas Adventure has been able to gear up for its second year.

“The autism/down syndrome community is so much more vast than I anticipated,” Schwenk said.

Additionally, Schwenk said that he has noticed just how tight-knit of a community the special needs groups are here in Auburn-Opelika. Though Schwenk himself has few familial connections to those with disabilities, both he and Hughes have had their hearts touched by the need they see in Auburn-Lee County. Schwenk said that in “God’s economy,” everyone is created equal.

“I don’t think God sees disabilities,” Schwenk said. “The way I see it is that my problems just aren’t for everybody to see. I could be labeled with three other things. But I hide them … But because theirs are on display for everybody, we deem them to have disabilities.”

For the month of December, the Excellent Christmas Adventure is dedicated to working with local organizations focused on people with disabilities to identify needs in the community. Schwenk and Hughes will primarily be focused on hanging up lights to bring visual joy to those they are serving.

“The point is to make that person feel loved, even for a moment,” Schwenk said.

While their target audience remains veterans and those on the spectrum, or with Down Syndrome, Schwenk said that he does not want to “pigeon-hole” their ministry or “put God on a shelf.” Schwenk and Hughes are dedicated to serving anyone who needs it.

Excellent Christmas Adventure accepts both volunteers and donations. Volunteers can offer their assistance through messaging the barbecue business’ Facebook page. Seeing as Schwenk and Hughes will be showing up in costume to decorate, they encourage any volunteers to do so as well and embrace the Christmas spirit.

Donations can be made through Venmo to @ExtendedHeartFoundation. Schwenk noted that a generous donor even gave $500 on the first day that the Venmo account opened. Any money will go toward buying lights, as well as helping pay for the power bill of the houses they attend. Anything less than this would be “short-sighted,” Schwenk said.

Currently, the group is working on constructing a permanent foundation to gather funds for the Excellent Christmas Adventure, to meet the needs of the community. The Foundation will be named after Kim Epperson, former children’s minister at Trinity Church in Auburn. Epperson recently passed away due to COVID and health complications.

Schwenk said naming the foundation after her felt right. The love that Excellent Christmas Adventure strives to show to the community is a reflection of the same affection that Epperson bestowed upon the children she cared for.

Both co-owners hope that the business can one day expand and that the Excellent Christmas Adventure will become a nationwide service project. As he entrusts it into God’s hands, Schwenk said he would love to see cities across America looking to serve their communities in this way.

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