Service with a Smile

Have you ever wondered what would happen if you took the love of Christ, good business sense and the relational engine that is Young Life — then added in a few thousand pounds of rotisserie beef? Well wonder no more! It's been happening for 30 years now at the Western Washington Fair.

Known locally as The Puyallup Fair, it ranks in the top 10 of most-attended fairs in the United States. From Sept. 9 to Sept. 25, the fairgrounds will host more than one million visitors, and more than a few will visit one of the two Young Life food booths run by volunteers from Gig Harbor, Lakewood/Steilacoom, Puyallup, and University Place/North Tacoma Young Life areas.

In 17 days, the local Young Life community (staff, leaders, kids, parents and friends) will serve more than 15,000 pounds of barbecue beef sandwiches, 10,000 pounds of teriyaki chicken, and 15,000 pounds of turkey legs, not to mention the coleslaw, baked beans, fountain drinks, and fixin's. In fact, if you stacked the cans of baked beans they go through, the pile would be 50 feet higher than Seattle's Space Needle!

As you can imagine, it takes a lot of people-power to pull off such a feat. On peak days, the operation requires 50 volunteers per shift. By the end of the two-week event, more than 1,500 volunteer slots will be filled. "It's a lot of work to get people out there," said Ross Stewart, University Place/North Tacoma area director.

But it is well worth it. Since 1982, the Young Life BBQ (and later the Young Life Teriyaki) booths have brought in more than $8 million in gross sales and close to $3 million for local Young Life areas.

"Essentially, it's a restaurant operation," said Stewart. "We couldn't pull it off without the help of three amazing community leaders: Todd Silver, John Kautz and Brad Henning."

Inspired by the success of the Young Life BBQ at the Yakima Fair, these three men, along with Bob Lewis, Sally Crowe, Tom Jacobs, and Jim Brown, formed their own barbecue committee to prepare for the 1982 Puyallup Fair. It's been running ever since.

"On a busy Saturday, things are just flying. We'll have six cash registers running. People are taking orders, preparing food, serving customers, and having a ball. It's a gorgeous testimony to see the body of Christ working so hard with smiles on their faces," said Todd Silver. "It's a great PR event for Young Life."

"We're willing to do exhausting work to raise funds for kids," said Stewart, but he stresses the benefit goes beyond finances. Kids get to see the devotion of caring adults. Adults get to see the enthusiasm of kids. Leaders use it for contact work, which allows the community to see ministry in action. "Kids have actually met Christ while on the job," said Stewart.

Silver explains the essence of what happens at the Puyallup Fair this way: "[The Young Life BBQ] is a community gathering around the ministry to love the kids. It's just great to see the smile of the body of Christ."

Both Silver and Stewart believe their success could be replicated. If you are interested in learning more, please contact Todd Silver at todd@riteintherain.com.

The hard-working people in this article are all alumni and friends of Young Life. Visit the Alumni and Friends website at alumniandfriends.younglife.org to join, update your information and reconnect with your Young Life friends.