DECATUR — If free food be the music of love, Debra and Vinnie Barbee are Decatur’s virtuoso couple.
Sunday saw them stage their 17th annual “Block Party for the Homeless” in the road outside the Water Street Mission for the homeless in the 700 block of North Water Street. Vinnie Barbee’s signature barbecued pork was served along with hot dogs, baked beans, chips and dessert cookies, washed down with a sense of compassion that never knows fatigue or ennui.
“We know we’ve got to do it because we know they need it,” said Debra Barbee, watching chairs set out in the street filling up with dozens of hungry people. “We’re here to help the community.”
The Barbees, backed up by a roughly eight-strong hard core of volunteers they call the “Helping Hands,” also feed the needy at Easter and Thanksgiving and oversee a major toy drive at Christmas. The Barbees have been playing to the needs of their fellow man since 2001 when they, along with 1,500 others, lost their jobs after Decatur’s Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. tire plant ran out of economic road and closed.
“We’ve fed a lot of the people we used to work with,” said Debra Barbee, 58. The couple would go on to found and retire from their own successful restaurant business, but they never forgot the sweet taste of extending a helping hand to the less fortunate.
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“You know, I wish we didn’t have all these people here,” said Vinnie Barbee, 59, stirring his rich barbecue and flooding the air with mouth-watering aromas. “I wish all these people could be self-supporting, and didn’t need this. But that is not what is happening. We still need to help, still need to address the situation, and so we’re going to go right on keeping on.”
Jackie Jones, currently a guest of the city’s Grace House women’s shelter, sums up the Barbees and all they do in a few sweet notes: “I think they’re awesome, amazing,” said Jones, 55. “And they do all these Thanksgiving and Easter dinners for the homeless too. It’s really a blessing.”
Entertainment at Sunday’s block party came, as it always does, from David Lee’s Party Time DJs service, run by David Lee. Barbee would pay him in the early days but Lee said he got to handing his fee right back and now charges nothing, earning so much more, he explained, from supporting something worthwhile.
“I realized that I needed to give back and Vinnie is a class act,” added Lee. “Vinnie is good people.”