Friday night, Ron Nelson, a member of Trinity Lutheran Church, will season 650 pounds of meat. At 1 p.m. Saturday, Nelson will start smoking most of the meats for the next 10 to 12 hours. Between 6 and 7 p.m. Saturday, he will start the 72 racks of ribs.
All of this is in preparation for a barbecue fundraiser that will take place between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Oct. 20, at the VFW, 2106 Vine.
The barbecue dinner is free; goodwill donations will be taken. All proceeds will benefit the proposed Accessible Recreation Complex — commonly known as ARC Park — which will be built at 33rd and Hillcrest.
The fundraiser is being sponsored by the church and Downing-Nelson Oil, 111 W. 10th. Nelson is a partner in that firm.
In addition to the ribs, Nelson will be preparing 160 pounds of pulled pork, 150 pounds of brisket, and eight 20-pound turkeys. Downing-Nelson Oil is paying for all the meat. The church will be providing coleslaw, baked beans, potato salad, and various desserts.
In all, the sponsors are planning to feed between 400 and 500 people, said Anna Towns, administrative assistant at Trinity.
Nelson has been doing similar barbecue dinner fundraisers twice a year at the church for at least the last 10-12 years, he said. Before this year, he and his wife, Lila, paid for all the meats, and he smoked and cooked them with the help of family and friends.
Always before, the dinners have been held at the church, 2703 Fort St. Each year the church council selected a different charitable organization to receive the proceeds, Towns said.
“For Trinity, it’s about living into our mission, ‘striving to be an action-based church, one that ventures out to meet the very real needs of our community,’” Towns said.
This year, the charity chosen is the ARC Park. Instead of the normal two fundraisers, this year there will be just this one, but it will be double the size in terms of the amount of food being prepared. The decision was also made to move the dinner to the VFW in order to accommodate a larger crowd.
“The VFW is just as accommodating as they can be,” Nelson said. "Hays has a surplus of volunteers. That’s what makes this work.”
Those volunteers include a crew from the church that will arrive around 7 a.m. Sunday to cut up the ribs, de-skin the poultry, and pull the pork off the bones. There is also a volunteer cleanup crew.
Another change this year, in addition to the new location and increased amount of food, is the decision by Downing-Nelson Oil to donate all the meats.
Alan Downing, Nelson’s business partner, has a special needs grandchild. He was all in when he found out the dinner this year would benefit the park that will be accessible to children and adults with special needs.
“They need something accessible here. There are a bunch of special needs kids in this town,” Downing said.
Among those is Abe, who has Down syndrome and is unable to sit up on a regular swing. So when his mother, Sarah Meitner, takes him to a typical park, Abe can only sit and look at the other children swinging happily.
As a concerned parent, Meitner decided to apply for a position on the ARC of Central Plains Board of Directors. During her interview for that position, Meitner expressed her frustration about the lack of an accessible play area in Hays to the ARC’s executive director, Kathy McAdoo.
McAdoo said she had previously discussed with Brent Kaiser, the ARC’s activities director, how wonderful it would be to have an accessible baseball field for the Special Olympics athletes that the ARC supports.
“That day, those two ideas came together,” McAdoo said.
The result is a $1.8 million project that will be built in the current open space at Seven Hills Park. The additional complex will include a playground featuring accessible slides, swings and sensory features for inclusive play; an accessible baseball field; splash pad with filtered water; accessible rubber or turf flooring; fenced play areas; and a new family restroom.
The fundraising began in September 2018. “In just 12 months, we raised nearly $600,000 in cash and in-kind donations,” McAdoo said.
All of that funding has come through donations and grants written by Meitner, who now serves as the board president. There is no governmental funding.
“We’ve had a lot of grassroots efforts,” McAdoo said. “Really, it’s layer by layer. Every penny helps.”
She added the park has received donations from 330 donors in amounts below $500. Sponsors donating $500 and above number 158.
Construction will begin in spring 2020, McAdoo said. If the entire amount has not been raised by then, “we’ll build in stages. The playground would be first,” McAdoo said. “The park is for all ages, including the 65-year-old-plus kids that we serve.
“All we can do is pray and hope the good people of Hays and Ellis County will continue to support this project,” she said.
As for Nelson, he said he began doing the fundraisers years ago for a very simple reason: “It started out we had a mission — to help someone else. We have such good causes. It’s us helping in a small way.”
He promises no one will leave hungry from Sunday’s event. Those unable to attend the fundraiser may pre-order a meal, based on availability, Nelson said.
“We sell by the pound the food that is not consumed,” he said. Those wishing to take advantage of this option may call the church at (785) 625-2044.
Those wishing to make a monetary donation to the ARC Park may do so online at www.HaysARCPark.org, or by bringing or mailing a donation to the ARC office, 600 Main St.