News‎ > ‎

Help Freedom crew help others

posted May 1, 2013, 4:27 PM by Paul Bicking   [ updated Jun 25, 2015, 5:08 AM ]

May 01, 2013

Help Freedom crew help others
Volunteers trying to sate grill's thirst for fuel
GRILLIN’ FOR FREEDOM will attend a number of benefit events this year, its volunteers cooking their way through the summer for many good causes. The grill crew could use a little help with their quest to help others. Free Press file photo
+ click to enlarge
GRILLIN’ FOR FREEDOM will attend a number of benefit events this year, its volunteers cooking their way through the summer for many good causes. The grill crew could use a little help with their quest to help others. Free Press file photo
Pam Monson
Freepress Editor

Every time Paul Bicking passes her, he gives her a little pat on the bumper. This grand lady in his life is Grillin' for Freedom, and Bicking and the grill crew are preparing for another season of helping others, particularly veterans and their families, and could use a little help themselves.

JR Miller and Bicking started the grilling initiative in late 2008, when Mark Olson, a Marine who hails from Coal City, was returning from Falluja to recover from critical injuries suffered in the war. They volunteered to man the grills, but didn't have enough grill space to do all the cooking that they wanted to do.

They started making plans, and when 12 feet of 36-inch diameter pipe showed up in Bicking's front yard one day, Freedom started to take shape. They found an old house trailer that took apart and created the foundation for the traveling grill.

The organizer of one early event they attended, the owner of Bechstein Construction, gave them a fire truck which they use to haul the Freedom grill to benefits and in parades.

Freedom made her first appearance at Braidwood Generating Station's Fishing for a Cure event at Braidwood Lake, which benefited OPERATION: MOMS Cookies, a natural fit for the volunteers.

"It kind of exploded from there," Bicking commented. "People started finding out about us, and we hit everything we can."

Freedom's crew includes Bicking, and his son Paul Jr., Miller, Donnie Williams and Stacy Ross. Rob Zarecky was part of the team until his death in 2011, and the group remembers his contribution to the effort whenever they speak of how the grill came to be.

Now, Bicking and Miller sit across the table from one another at the VFW Post 5422, and synchronize their "books." Each has a calendar, and adds dates for benefits at which they've been asked to appear, then shares it with the other. They cook for benefit motorcycle fun runs, coat drives, victims of natural disasters and especially events that benefit veterans.

They are particularly focused on honoring the past, present and future members of America's six branches of service - Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard; Bicking also counts the National Guard. They want youngsters to learn about the American flag and patriotism, which can be displayed in many ways, including by the square inch of grill space.

The Freedom Grill can cook 432 hamburgers or 864 hot dogs at one time; or, it can smoke 569 pounds of pork, with room to spare.

"They're good guys doing it to help," Ross said. The volunteers often talk to people who can't believe a group of volunteers from a small town do so much to welcome soldiers home, or send them off.

"I enjoy doing it. It's a challenge, seeing how many people I can feed," said Miller. The USMC on his shirt, says Bicking with a laugh, stands for Uncle Sam's Misguided Cook.

So far this year they have scheduled two motorcycle runs in May, one to support Patriot Spirit, the organization that replaced MOMS Cookies, and one for Operation Care Package. On May 24 the Freedom crew will help place flags on the graves of the veterans buried at the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery, and then collect the flags on the 28th. They're scheduled to make an appearance at the VFW Post 5422 Memorial Day parade in Wilmington on May 25, and are cooking at D'Orazio Ford's one-year anniversary celebration on June 1. On June 8 they cook for a barbecue picnic and fishing event for the residents of the Manteno Veterans Home and on the 14th they'll be at Canal Days in Lockport in support of Operation Care Package.

They're booked into October, including appearances at the Carbon Hill homecoming parade, Morris Touch a Truck, the Liberty Walk in Morris, the Braidwood Summerfest and Wilmington Catfish Days parades, the Operation Care Package block party in Joliet and the big Operation Care Package benefit at the Wilmington VFW on Aug. 17.

"We do it just to do it," Bicking explained, adding that they all enjoy meeting people.

In between scrounging for parts to keep the rig going, they donate their time by the weekend, but sometimes the cost of helping those individuals and organizations is pretty big. Supporter Tony Marmo started a charcoal drive - the Freedom grill can consume as many as 10, 20-pound bags of charcoal in an afternoon.

Marmo sent an email to all of his friends, asking that each donate one large bag of Kingsford Charcoal. Just one. His goal is to supply the group with over 250 bags so that they may continue "Grillin' for Freedom."

"I do understand that times are tough for many of us, and so it goes for these volunteers also. Most of the funds required for fuel (which Freedom has a thirst for) and grilling supplies comes from Paul and his volunteers, along with the donations of others that are generated at events through a tip jar," he wrote, and invited each to come to an event to meet Bicking and his crew, to give the crew an opportunity show their appreciation.

The charcoal drive has been pretty successful, and the crew thinks it'll be set for the season. Charcoal for Freedom will still be accepted at the Wilmington VFW, however, since Freedom's calendar is still open.

Even more, the crew would appreciate gas cards from local stations, or corporate fuel sponsors, as the fire truck pulling that 24-foot trailer to all those events is as thirsty as the grill. Fuel for the truck is the volunteers' biggest expense. Gas cards for Freedom, in any amount, can also be dropped off at the Wilmington VFW.

Bicking's dream was to build the grill, his goal is to see it loaded on a military transport plane and hauled overseas, so the Freedom team can give the men and women on active duty a taste of home. If anyone has an "in" with Toby Keith, Bicking would appreciate a call.

In the meantime, the group is trying to raise awareness of what it does, and why. It's Facebook page added nearly 300 likes in the last couple of weeks, since Ross started promoting it, and Grillin' has its own website.

D'Orazio Ford, Southern Exposure salon, Chicago International Trucks and R.S. Web De Sign's are among Freedom's sponsors.

"We're always open for more. We need support from the community," Bicking said.