Good-time Lake Bluff Rib Fest also helps feed others

Chronicle Media

Gregory Harutunian for Chronicle Media —  September 28, 2016

Expect to sample many different versions of cooked ribs at the 2016 Lake Bluff Rib Fest, Oct. 1, from 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., in downtown Lake Bluff. The 2016 edition of Rib Fest, sponsored by the Lake Bluff Rib Association, promises to supply another exacting competition between teams vying for the coveted “People’s Choice Award,” and “Best Ribs,” as selected by a juried bunch of BBQ aficionados.

One of the teams involved also has a side mission that takes pre-eminence to the festivities: providing beef dinners to families in need.

Beef4Hunger has participated in the Rib Fest for the past five years, and their mission statement has not changed, since coming into existence, which is to procure beef and deliver it around the country with the primary recipients being food banks and pantries. In Lake County, the distributing agency is the Northern Illinois Food Bank with its multiple locations.

All funds raised at Rib Fest are directly donated to Beef4Hunger to obtain, deliver, and give fresh beef to those in need. The motto is “Every 50 cents provides a meal.”

“We serve food banks all around the country because beef is the highest in protein, and the hardest for them to obtain … and the most expensive,” said Gregory Barnum, the organization’s founder and president. “We wondered what was the best way to distribute this meat, since most of the stuff that’s put out is near the expiration dates, and not really good quality.”

The answer came with the American Food Group, the fourth largest beef producer in the United States.

“What we get will go directly to families, through food banks, and it’s better,” Barnum said. “The beauty of the program is this … years ago, we scraped together funds for the first purchase, and they couldn’t store it safely at the food bank, so we bought them a freezer.

“They also bought one later, and now, we can provide 212,000 fresh beef meals, every month, like clockwork.”

The group’s origins began with Barnum, and his wife, Dawn, also a co-founder. Both did “a little farming” and had cattle, yet being successful in their other businesses, they sought ways to give back to the community. Professionals were consulted for different skill sets to implement a 100 percent volunteer program.

Partnering with numerous outlets helped secure the product and has included a recent alliance with Chicago-based Tall Grass, the organic cattle company operated by former CBS-TV anchorman Bill Kurtis. With open-range farms in Kansas, every product sold by Kurtis’ company has a percentage of the sale allotted to Beef4Hunger.

The Rib Fest itself is facilitated through the Lake Bluff Rib association, with a strong blessing by the Village of Lake Bluff. The association has been described as “basically just a group of people that like to cook ribs and see who does best.”

The juried choice has categories encompassing the look, taste, and texture of the ribs. Prizes are awarded, from first to fourth place, and the “People’s Choice” has the same nominal ranking. The choices may be subjective but those attending the event Oct. 1, from 11:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m., in downtown Lake Bluff, get “the best end” with free admission, and free samples.

Barnum enjoys the good fun in seeing the community come together, while raising awareness and funds for the organization.

“It’s the idea of helping others. District 13 Lake County Board member Sandy Hart does that, and is a big supporter of Beef4Hunger,” he said. “She’s shown up several times and helped give away beef in Waukegan.”

Hart was enthusiastic, when asked about the group.

“What I love about Beef4Hunger is that it was started by two people, who saw a need and decided that they would do something. Greg and Dawn (Barnum) made it a personal mission to make sure that the people who come to food banks, get high quality protein,” she said.

“And when you talk to them about the work they’re doing, it’s easy to say, ‘How can I help too?’  We’re fortunate to have people in our community who take that extra step to make a difference in people’s lives.”

Barnum, meanwhile, is gearing up for cooking out at the Rib Fest event.

“We’re so grateful to the association for supporting this great cause, as well as the community, and the volunteers that have made us successful. We’re a registered non-profit 501C-3 corporation, all volunteer, and every penny donated goes directly into helping feed the hungry with fresh beef, high in protein.

“And, that’s no baloney.”