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Article written by Jennifer Chandler

The line of cars in front of Memphis Athletic Ministries’ Grizzlies Center on Ball Road started to form at 5:30 a.m. Tuesday.

As the smell of barbecue smoke wafted through the air, close to 350 families lined up to patiently wait for a meal of freshly smoked barbecue pork shoulder, baked beans and slaw.

Since the coronavirus pandemic hit Memphis, Memphis Athletic Ministries has been providing food for the families it serves. Most weeks, it is a pickup of grocery items provided by Mid-South Food Bank.

But Tuesday was a special day.

Memphis in May World Championship Cooking Contest team Auto Be Grillin’ provided a hot meal of its  award-winning barbecue to 1,400 individuals.

“We wanted to give these people a hot meal,” said Brad Huddleston about how the team chose its menu. “We wanted to give them something they may not have had. Plus a warm meal warms hearts.”

Auto Be Grillin’ has competed in Memphis in May for more than 20 years. The team is sponsored by Memphis Auto Auction and United Recovery & Remarketing. This will be the first year the team is not competing during the month of May.

Huddleston said his team usually competes in small competitions every weekend during the spring to get ready for the WCBCC in May. This year’s barbecue contest has been rescheduled for Sept. 30-Oct. 3 due to the pandemic. The team has won several accolades, including first place in ribs at the WCBCC in 2014.

On Monday, the team started cooking at 6 p.m. Overnight, team members smoked 82 pork butts. “That equates to a little over 700 pounds of meat,” Huddleston said.

Four team members took the overnight cooking shift, but 25 total volunteered to help with the cooking, packaging and distribution of the meals.

“At Memphis in May, we put everything out on a buffet. Here, we were feeding a family at a time,” said Huddleston of the need for so many helping hands. “We packaged everything so it felt like they had gone to a barbecue restaurant and gotten a meal to go.”

Memphis Athletic Ministries has held weekly mobile food distribution events since March 27. The food is distributed to families with kids who participate in programs at any of MAM’s eight gyms across Memphis.

“When you work in a nonprofit, it takes a whole bunch of different people — volunteers like Auto Be Grillin’ — who step in to help you in miraculous ways,” said Kim Cherry, interim president and CEO of Memphis Athletic Ministries.

Cherry said every time they host a food distribution event, she gets emotional. “This is the best of Memphis at work,” she said. “Our city’s goodness is amazing.”

Founded in 1998, Memphis Athletic Ministries’ mission statement is “to coach, grow and lead the youth of Memphis by helping them discover their identity in Christ and their purpose in the community.”  Last year, the organization served more than 1,800 kids in eight gyms in high-needs neighborhoods across Memphis.

Huddleston and his teammates were grateful for the opportunity to help.

“This was an awesome thing that came together here,” Huddleston said. “MAM’s audience is inner-city kids, and we are feeding their families. Our food is going to people who really need it.”

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