By Nathan White, VBMB Web Minister
FREDERICKSBURG – Instead of selling tractors and other machinery on this chilly Saturday, the staff of White Oak Equipment in Fredericksburg, joined by a group of volunteers, was hustling around preparing for the 30th Annual Oyster Roast fundraiser.
Deputy sheriffs manned the entrance to the parking lot to help with traffic control. Several folks worked behind the building steaming the oysters. Other volunteers cooked, readied the drinks, and put condiments on the dozens of tables laid out in the warehouse.
“Oh, I expect we’ll have over 1,800 people come through here today,” reported Frank McCarty, founder of White Oak Equipment and the oyster roast.
In 1985, one of Frank’s employees, Jim Dawson, fell sick with cancer. One morning Frank felt God stirring his heart.
“It seemed like that particular Sunday morning the Lord spoke to me, and I thought why don’t I help Jim? So I went to church, and I told the pastor, ‘if the men of the church would do the work, I would clean my shop out, buy the oysters, and we’ll have an oyster roast fundraiser for Jim and donate all the money to Jim. We won’t charge, but everyone gives a love offering.’”
That first year they raised $8,500 for Jim. Frank underwrote the costs and Friendship Baptist Church supplied the labor.
Frank McCarty explains the Oyster Roast in his own words:
Though Jim later passed away, the calling to help others remained. Frank explained “I thought the Lord wanted me to do it one time! But He had other plans.”
After a few years, business took a downturn. Having financed the fundraiser himself, Frank prepared to approach the church with the bad news. However, before he could speak with the leadership, several businessmen approached him offering to help.
“I didn’t have to ask,” Frank said. “They had heard about it and just wanted to help.”
Future beneficiaries included a range of people from the community with various needs. In the first 29 years, the oyster roasts raised a total of $746,000.
Jim’s widow, Betty Dawson Hanson, said, “I think it’s important to not only raise the money, but to show the person how much we really care when they’re hurting so desperately.”
After Friendship Baptist Church closed a few years ago, Frank moved his membership to Fairview Baptist Church, a multi-site church in Fredericksburg. Both the downtown campus and River Club campus embraced the opportunity to serve through this unique opportunity.
Art Blankenship, a member of Fairview Baptist Church, heads up the production of the fundraiser. He enlists and oversees about 125 volunteers, helps McCarty line up corporate sponsors, deals with health department inspectors, and sees that everything runs smoothly. “It’s a labor of love,” Art said.
Art detailed that in addition to church volunteers, several community organizations help out, including Boy Scouts and other non-profit groups. “Sometimes you have to cajole them the first time,” Blankenship explains, “but once they come out and do this, they see it’s a fun activity and how much of a joy it is to serve the Lord. They’re anxious to come back.”
Art, Frank, and two others serve as the committee that decides who receives the donations from the fundraiser each year. Guided by prayer, the committee reviews nominations and selects the person. Recipients are from the community and do not have to be part of the church.
This year’s beneficiary was Kenneth “Beau” Barbeau, a 37-year-old man paralyzed by a tree falling on his truck while he was stopped at an intersection.
“The oyster roast is really an extension of what we do [for missions] throughout the year,” says Blankenship. “We’re pretty active in social ministries and the food bank. We have groups travel overseas—this is another mission opportunity for our members.”
Janice Graves, the controller for White Oak, began her work 30 years ago. “We had no idea at that time that it was going to go on for 29 more years.”
The longtime Episcopalian joined Fairview two years ago, where she serves as church treasurer. “The people at Fairview Baptist Church, in working with them on this oyster roast, they have just been wonderful. They’re part of a family of people who I wanted to be part of.”
Janice described how each year the sign-up sheet becomes inundated with volunteers. “Everybody gets excited about it…I think it brings the church together. It certainly brings the community together. We have people calling here days in advance wanting to make sure that this is the weekend for the roast.”
Over 80 gallons of oysters are required to serve the crowd. A veritable “who’s who” of local politicians and philanthropists show up to lend support.
One of the most enjoyable times is when Frank climbs up the stairs, grabs a mic, and auctions off donated baked goods. Some sell for as much as $100.
“It’s a community thing,” says Frank, “I don’t ask for help, I don’t go around soliciting. They volunteer to do it.”
This year’s total? $38,000, with every penny going to Kenneth Barbeau.