GottaQ’s Strout spends 2020 helping feed families in need

GottaQ’s Strout spends 2020 helping feed families in need

GottaQ Smokehouse BBQ staff and volunteers cooked, assembled, and distributed Thanksgiving meals to folks in need, many patrons from the Northern Rhode Island Food Pantry. 

CUMBERLAND – Since the pandemic started, Mike Strout, owner of GottaQ Smokehouse BBQ in Cumberland, has been finding ways to help feed those in need in his community, most recently by dishing out 1,500 turkey dinners at his restaurant on Thanksgiving.

Most of those meals went to patrons of the Northern Rhode Island Food Pantry on Angell Road in Cumberland, who received a card during their monthly distribution on Nov. 21, directing them to call for a pickup appointment, according to Bob Chaput, co-executive director of the pantry.

“It was a godsend for us,” Chaput told The Breeze.

In past years, volunteers at the NRI Food Pantry have given out turkeys to all the families during their November distribution day, but this year the number of families seeking assistance has more than doubled, he said, going from 150 to 200 families a month to 566 families last month. “We didn’t think we’d be able to do it this year. Mike bailed us out,” he said.

Strout told The Breeze that his motivation has been “to just feed people and take care of people.” GottaQ, he said, was founded with Christian and family-friendly values, and staff have always been instructed to help out folks who appear to have no money.

When the pandemic hit, he said he went into school lunch mode, making 50 lunches a week for kids in need, and ended up making meals for their parents, too.

From there, he reached out to Chaput and started giving him coupons that folks who used the pantry could redeem at GottaQ for a meal for four. In September, nearly 400 coupons were redeemed and about the same number in October, he said. Then came Thanksgiving. With help from his staff and volunteers from the food pantry and nonprofit Hunger Smoked, of which Strout is a founding member and board member, he ended up serving 1,553 meals that day to families in need.

The Wednesday before Thanksgiving, Strout said they were outside cooking turkeys until 3:30-4 a.m. and had to be back at the restaurant at 8:30 a.m. “We were just cooking and cooking, having a good old time, like being at a competition.”

Most of his 30 employees and some of their parents, as well as other volunteers, some from the NRI Food Pantry, spent their Thanksgiving helping to distribute meals, which consisted of turkey breasts, sweet potatoes, cornbread, stuffing and green beans. “They came in on their own and worked their butts off,” Strout said.

He said they also put out a call for donations of cookies, hoping to get 2,000 initially, and ended up with more than 5,000. “We got such a huge response from the community,” he said. “Cumberland just embraced it.”

Following state health guidelines, Strout said they set up an assembly line of food and put together boxes for people to take. He said getting the chance to talk to the people who showed up was “such a phenomenal thing,” and afterward he received “some of the nicest cards” from people grateful for the meal. “It was a pretty emotional thing,” he added.

Through Hunger Smoked, a nonprofit created by barbecue pitmasters that prepares meals for those in need and people that support them, Strout has also helped provide meals for folks in homeless shelters and through other organizations. The mission of the group is to “enable barbecue enthusiasts to give back to the community through donations and volunteerism,” according to its Facebook page.

“Barbecue is a big family,” Strout said, adding that anyone is welcome to get involved with the organization.

Strout’s been busy with his business as well this year, he noted, opening a permanent BBQ smoker trailer at Blackbird Farm, 122 Limerock Road in Smithfield, about a month ago. It’s open Thursdays through Sundays, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., for takeout.

He’s asking the community to let him know if there are individuals and families who might need help one way or another.

Reach him at 401-475-4227.