When Friendswood business owners Dick and Horacene Daugird named a charity effort after the lighthouse landmark at their insurance office 30 years ago, they weren’t necessarily expecting to grow into a nonprofit capable of cooking and serving 28,000 meals in the past year alone.
“We had no idea it would turn into this when we had one or two trailers to get to a couple of events,” said Lighthouse Charity Team vice president Scott Gordon, reflecting on the group’s first year.
In 1984, the team had about 10 volunteers. Today, hundreds of volunteers donate labor to help charities and community organizations with fundraising events.
Able to prep, cook and serve complete meals of chicken, steak, crawfish and fajitas in vast quantities, the team travels with custom-built, mobile equipment with names as unique as their design. The “Granddaddy” is a kitchen on a trailer capable of cooking 1,000 pounds of meat, while the “Crawdaddy” can be rolled out to boil 1,500 crawfish in 20-minute intervals.
Perhaps the best way to describe Lighthouse Charity Team is to explain what is is not. Team members don’t compete in cook-offs, and they aren’t caterers. Their time and equipment are freely given. For Lighthouse events, organizations served incur only the cost of consumables, allowing them to benefit from 100 percent of profits. Lighthouse also provides a vital disaster response service.
After Hurricane Katrina, the team served meals to residents of the shelters in Galveston County and Nassau Bay.
Its largest — and most sustained — effort, Gordon said, came during the aftermath of Hurricane Ike, when team volunteers fed three meals per day to more than 1,000 for more than 30 days.
“We prepped the food in Friendswood every night, and a group would leave at 3 or 4 in the morning and take it down there to serve,” Gordon recalled. “While they were serving, we were prepping the next day’s food. We had about 200 to 250 volunteers working around the clock for a month.”
Regardless of the size of the project, Gordon said he finds heartfelt satisfaction through benefits that assist families of children with life-threatening illnesses.
“As a group of volunteers, everybody has problems,” he said, “but when you look at a family with a 5-year-old fighting cancer — yes you think, ‘I have a lot of problems, but not something like that.’ These are the most touching cases.”
Lighthouse cooked and served for 87 events last year and now operates not only its Friendswood corporate office, but a satellite facility in Galveston. Its annual operating budget is about $500,000 per year — the lion’s share of which must come from the group’s annual gala fundraiser. “Ninety percent of that needs to be raised in one night,” Gordon said.
Country star Kevin Fowler will highlight this year’s fundraiser gala, scheduled Saturday, Jan. 25, beginning at 5 p.m. at the Pearland K.C. Hall, 2320 Hatfield Road.
Dance floor tables of up to 12 can be reserved for $4,000, and include limo service to and from the event. Other tables are $2,500 with discount limo pricing available — and many of those booking tables at the open-bar event are taking advantage of this service, Gordon said.
“They pay a little more, but they are safe,” he said. “It’s all the fun you want to have, but doing it responsibly.”
The event has only a few tables left, and will sell out at between 500 and 600 seats. It includes a live and silent auction.
With the gala selling out quickly each year, the group in the future has its eye on a facility for the event that will seat 2,000 — all while maintaining RodeoHouston-caliber entertainment, he said.
As many nonprofits would likely attest, the most challenging part of running an organization for three decades is funding, he said.
“We’ve got the equipment to feed an army — literally,” he said. “Everybody wants to help after a disaster, but it’s about coming up with funding leading up to it. It’s who’s keeping the doors open and equipment ready and insurance on the trucks and trailers and electricity on. No one sees the amount of money it takes to operate on a day-to-day basis, they just see great things happen after a storm.”
The team is not confined by county lines, making three trips to Moore, Okla. after the May 2013 tornado claimed 24 lives there, causing an estimated $2 billion in damages.
Many of its volunteers put in volunteer hours equivalent to a full-time job. And the payback is more than worth it, Gordon said.
“We may not have money in the bank,” he said, “but we are the richest people in the world when you look at the friends we’ve made. The board of directors thanks the many individuals and businesses that not only help build and maintain the equipment, but those who got us where we are.”