Many IGA stores host cookout events to benefit groups in their communities, but Brookville IGA in Brookville, Indiana has taken the concept a step further. For the past 11 years, the store has been hosting cookouts every Friday and Saturday from mid-April to mid-October, to benefit around 50 area groups and organizations.
Chances are, if you stop by one of these lunchtime events, you’ll see Store Owner Joe Jester running the grill himself, flipping cheeseburgers and turning hot dogs. He also makes smoked pork, rib eye, and chicken, cooked to perfection over charcoal, then turned into sandwiches.
It’s his way of giving back. “I find the community is good to me, so it feels good to do something for the community,” he says. In addition to the face time he gets with his customers, Jester finds working the grill himself ensures the quality of the food is consistent and top notch every time. The weekly lunches draw quite the crowds, who enjoy great food at great prices: $1 for a hotdog, $2 for cheeseburgers and $3 for sandwiches. Chips and a drink are $1 extra.
“The customer gets a good value and it brings the community together,” Jester says. With the affordable prices, sales are strong, averaging about $70,000–$75,000 for the season. Jester splits the proceeds 50/50 with the designated charity, which covers the cost of the food. A freewill donation jar is put out at each event, and that plus the food sales bring the charity an average of $800 on a Friday, and as much as $2,500 over both days, resulting in what Jester calls a “win win win.”
“It’s a way to raise money that doesn’t hurt anybody. My donation is the time and effort that goes into it,” he says. As the owner of five area stores, devoting two days a week to the cookouts is time away from other duties, but Jester says it’s a worthwhile commitment, especially for events that bring people together physically and metaphorically.
“When it comes to IGA cookouts, they all sit down at the same table. When I’m working the grill, I look out and see people talking together: prosecutors and defense attorneys, motorcycle guys and Little Leaguers, canoers and fishermen. We like to say we’re the only thing that brings Republicans and Democrats together. It’s really neat.”
As an outdoor recreation destination for camping, paddling, and fishing, business picks up 20 percent in the summer months, and often at noon on Saturdays the parking lot (which is the biggest lot in Brookville) is totally full. Especially if it’s a popular organization on that weekend’s schedule, Jester says. Inside the store, the cash registers are ringing, as many people combine the lunchtime gathering with their weekly shopping trips.
How It Works
The charities range from sports teams to church groups to the local Special Olympics chapter. There’s 4-H, Kiwanis, and Boy Scouts. A group called the Turkey Trotters makes and delivers meals to shut-ins on Thanksgiving and Christmas (funds that come back around, as they buy their supplies at IGA). Another group makes quilts for babies in the hospital. For some of the charities, it’s the largest fundraiser they do in a year, says Jester.
Each January and February, Jester puts out a call for new groups who want to participate. Then in March he puts together the schedule. Longstanding groups might have a Friday and Saturday, while newer groups start with one day to ensure everyone gets a spot.
On their designated day(s), the participating charity sends volunteers to help run the table, take the money, and serve drinks. The lunch hours are from 10:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., which gives the volunteers time in the morning to get into a groove before the noon-time rush, says Jester, who estimates they are dishing up sandwiches every 15 seconds during the peak hour.
This series has become so popular, Jester is in the process of training some of his employees to run the grill, so that he can take a much-needed break.
“The community won’t let it stop, they are so used to it,” he says with a laugh.