Sumter BD employees return the favor to Puerto Rico

Barbecue fundraiser helps hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico


Two years ago, when the 1,000-year flood struck South Carolina, among those affected were employees of the BD plant in Sumter.

"We had a lot of associates impacted, but we had six associates that worked here who lost everything," Sumter Plant Manager Kevin Johnson said.

Employees held a barbecue at the time to raise money for their co-workers in need. Money raised in the effort was matched by BD, and other sites around the world also pitched in, Johnson said.

"Puerto Rico sites were among those that had sent us donations to help our associates," Johnson said.

Fast forward to Sept. 20 of this year. Puerto Rico was slammed by Hurricane Maria, which struck the U.S. Commonwealth with Category 4 winds.

The devastation was near total.

Three small BD plants in Puerto Rico were shut down because of the storm, Johnson said, and they are still working to get back online. The lives of many employees have been disrupted.

"I don't have a total count of the number of associates that lost homes and belongings, but it's a substantial number," Johnson said.

Employees at the Sumter plant decided they wanted to return the compassion Puerto Rico had shown for Sumter.

"We essentially wanted to pay it forward," Johnson said.

The grills were fired up again.

With Danny Burke on board as grill master and Chris Floyd coordinating the barbecue, BD's second barbecue fundraiser was set to begin.

"The money will be going to help our BD associates who work in Puerto Rico," Johnson said.

The barbecue turned out to be a two-day event, with flames flying Oct. 20-21.

"We are a 24-7 operation, so we have different shift schedules and different folks showing up at different times," Johnson said. "We actually had six different cook times and six different serving times."

Floyd said the cooking started about 6 a.m., with he and Burke fulfilling most of the grilling duties.

"We took turns throughout the day, and we had other people helping us with various aspects of the process," Floyd said. "Cook a while, run home and get a couple of hours of sleep, and come back and do it again."

Johnson said employees responded by doing more than just buying tickets to the barbecue.

"Not only did our associates purchase plates, they went out and talked to friends and family and people they go to church with," Johnson said.

Floyd said they were initially concerned the response might not match the barbecue in 2015.

"It was a little bit different," Floyd said. "We were a little bit worried we would fall slightly short of our sales for the 1,000-year flood barbecue because (in 2015) we had the damage all around us, and we knew the people personally."

Soon, however, ticket sales started picking up.

"We realized we were on track to exceed 2015," Floyd said.

Standing over a grill for two days is demanding work, but Burke said the mild weather made it easier.

"The weather wasn't beating down," he said.

More than 1,200 of the $8 plates were sold, raising $12,050.

Johnson said BD is collecting money from sites around the world to assist Puerto Rico.

"We are sending this in as part of that collective effort," he said. "I am sure we will have a strong showing as part of that effort."

Floyd said at one point, Hurricane Maria seemed headed for Sumter.

"We dodged a bullet because the hurricane was initially supposed to hit us," he said. "Cooking barbecue for a couple of days and getting really tired is a pleasure considering what we could have been dealing with."

Johnson said it shows the culture at the Sumter plant.

"We work hard, and we care hard," he said.

Floyd said it was worth the effort.

"The silver lining is we had fun doing it," he said. "We were able to play off that positive energy to raise a lot of money."