GCSAA member cooks up support for Hurricane Ian first responders

Andy Engelbrecht and friends created BBQ for Heroes to provide hot meals for those on the front lines of storm recovery.


BBQ for Heroes
Andy Engelbrecht prepares a meal for Hurricane Ian first responders. Engelbrecht and his friends created BBQ for Heroes to support storm recovery workers in their South Florida community. Photos courtesy of Andy Engelbrecht

Andy Engelbrecht was born and raised in Southwest Florida. He grew up fishing with his father on Sanibel Island, hanging out with friends on Fort Myers Beach, spending summer afternoons on Captiva. He and his wife, Betsy, are now raising a family of their own in Fort Myers. Other than his college days at the University of Florida and his early jobs in the golf industry — first as a club professional, then as a superintendent before veering into the industry-supplier side — this part of the world is the only home he’s ever known.

Considering that, it’s not surprising how deeply Engelbrecht has been moved by Hurricane Ian and the devastation it left behind. Fortunately, the personal impacts have been minimal; friends and family are safe, and aside from some tree damage, his home in Fort Myers came through the storm in one piece.

Englebrecht knows he and his family are among the area’s exceptions. With so many suffering, the 14-year GCSAA member knew he had to do something to help. “Everything’s been upended here,” Engelbrecht says. “We’re all just trying to figure out what we can do to help.”

For Engelbrecht and a close group of friends, that led to what they call “BBQ for Heroes,” an effort to fire up smokers and grills to feed first responders working in the area to complete search-and-rescue efforts and assist with overall cleanup.

“It’s huge for these guys when they can come into the station, they're changing shifts and they can grab some real food as opposed to MREs or cold stuff that they get donated,” says Engelbrecht, now a regional sales rep for BASF in South Florida. “All that is great, but when you can sink your teeth into a piece of brisket or a rib, it's like that changes the day for them.”

BBQ for heroes crew
Engelbrecht (center, with axe) with some of the BBQ for Heroes crew and first responders.

Before they could do all that, though, Engelbrecht and company needed to upgrade their equipment. For the most part, they are all weekend warriors who like to cook for friends and family. None of them had a smoker large enough to accommodate the amount of brisket, chicken and ribs needed to feed battalions of firefighters and paramedics.

So, they bought one. It was an older unit that needed plenty of work, but a day’s worth of rehab and fresh paint got the crew up and running. By Tuesday of this week, the BBQ for Heroes crew set up shop at a local fire station and started serving meals. “We're all just backyard guys. We're not professionals and we don't claim to know what we're doing,” Engelbrecht says. “But my family likes what I make and I'm with a few people that are pretty darn good at it. So far, nothing but rave reviews from the first responders.”

When word began to spread about what Engelbrecht and his cohorts were doing, donations flowed in to help defer costs for the meat, the woodchips and charcoal needed to keep the fires burning, and supply side dishes. A GoFundMe page has also generated some buzz, and as of Wednesday morning, the group has received more than $5,000 in donations.

“I had never done one of those before, but it’s pretty amazing how quickly people have stepped up to help,” Engelbrecht says. “My wife helped get that set up and is managing the funds and tracking receipts. We want to make sure we’re reimbursing people who need to be reimbursed, and that we’re using the money the right way.”

This isn’t the first time Engelbrecht has offered up his barbecue skills for a good cause. After Hurricane Irma came ashore near Naples, Fla., in 2017, he joined an effort to help feed golf course maintenance crews who were working to get their courses up and running. This time, with plenty of other industry efforts focusing on superintendents and golf courses, he put first responders at the top of his list.

“I was a superintendent for a long time, and I know what those guys are going through,” says Engelbrecht, who isn’t the only family member involved in relief efforts; his wife, Betsy, has been involved in putting together bags of supplies for area families affected by Ian. “But I also knew what else was being done, so I decided we needed to do this for now. Once we have all the people on the front lines taken care of, then I'll circle back to the golf guys and see how they're doing.”

To learn more and to help with the BBQ for Heroes effort, visit their GoFundMe page.

Scott Hollister is editor-in-chief of GCM.