How a snow storm created a volunteer’s mission.
On the last Thursday in April, JMTE’s Jim Kellenberger left his home in Oriental, NC and headed to Greenville, NC, where he set up his big grill and cooked his famous “eco-friendly NC barbecue” for the annual meeting of Sound Rivers Inc., a private nonprofit group that guards the health and natural beauty of the Neuse and Tar-Pamlico River Basins.
On Sunday, Jim was back home attending a dedication service for a Community Labyrinth, a project of Oriental United Methodist Church. As a fundraiser for this project two years ago, Jim smoked salmon on his grill. The salmon plates, combined with an evening of jazz saxophone, raised about $5,000.
As the lead instructor for the JMTE Academy, Jim keeps a frenetic schedule holding work zone certification and safety trainings throughout North Carolina and neighboring states. But that doesn’t mean he puts volunteering on the shelf for a while and gets back to it when he’s not busy. The way he sees it, he’s making up for lost time.
“I wish I could say I’ve been volunteering all of my life, but I haven’t,” he said. “I’m trying to make up for that now.”
Jim’s desire to do more to help people awakened when he was working for the NC Department of Transportation and a winter storm dropped 23 inches of snow on Wake County in 2000. While NCDOT had always promoted volunteering, the storm, which closed their offices for 10 days, opened his eyes to community needs in a way that his other activities hadn’t.
“I had done a few volunteer things, but they seemed like they were more about meetings, not substance,” Jim said. “When the storm hit, there were work crews who had pretty much spent 72-96 hours straight pushing snow. All the fast food places were closed, so they pretty much had nothing to eat during that time. I decided then that if I could ever do anything to change that, I would.”
When Jim retired from NCDOT in 2005, people wanted to know what they could get him as a retirement gift, so he asked for money to go toward a grill so he could feed DOT workers during storms. But he didn’t stop there. He also began delivering Meals on Wheels in Raleigh and served on the MOW board there for 12 years. And he started taking his grill on the road.
Jim figures he’s cooked about 100-150 meals since 2006, raising as much money as he can and giving it all away. The food is usually served with a passionate message about work place and work zone safety. He has no plans to stop any time soon.
“I feel like this is what I’m supposed to be doing,” he said.