Since 2008, Hogs for the Cause has helped support more than 200 families with children battling brain cancer — and it may all be thanks to one really bad season of college football.
Becker Hall, one of the founders of the premier charity cook-off, learned the uplifting power of barbecue while attending the University of South Carolina.
“When I was in South Carolina, I unfortunately endured the 0-21 Lou Holtz era,” says Hall. “In my fraternity in those days, we would smoke whole hogs before every football game and the whole hog became more fun and more looked forward to than the actual football game because we lost every game.”
Returning to his home state of Louisiana after graduation, Hall joined up with Rene Louapre and the two childhood friends started brainstorming what would become Hogs for the Cause. Originally just a way to bring the barbecue culture of South Carolina to Louisiana, Hall and Louapre planned to smoke a pig, drink some beer, and invite a few friends. That was until they stumbled upon an opportunity to do so much more.
“We heard of a child who was the son of a sous chef at a local restaurant who had an inoperable brain tumor,” says Hall. “I turned to Rene and I said, ‘You know what? This pig roast could be a good idea to help. I think our friends are going to enjoy it, but we could really do something altruistic here and I think we might have the opportunity to raise some money for this family.’”
That first year, Hall, Louapre, and 200 of their friends gathered overlooking the Mississippi River and raised $10,000 for the family in need. The following year’s event drew a crowd of more than 1,000. By year three, the organizers had added live music to the festivities and attendance hit 3,000. The numbers have only grown from there.
“We just finished out seventh year in New Orleans and 35,000 people came out and we raised about a million dollars for the cause, which is helping families with pediatric brain cancer,” says Hall.
All money raised by Hogs for the Cause goes directly to the families it supports in the form of cash grants. This money is used to pay for everyday expenses that often become too much for families to bear when facing mounting medical expenses.
The American Cancer Society estimates that more than 10,000 children under the age of 15 will be diagnosed with cancer this year in the United States. According to the Agency of Healthcare Research and Quality, in 2009 the average cost of pediatric hospitalizations for cancer was $40,400, five times the average amount for other childhood conditions. Children receiving cancer treatment usually spend 12 days in the hospital per visit compared to less than four days for children with other illnesses. During these long hospital stays, parents find themselves pulled away from work while they travel to find the best treatment options available for their child.
“Usually, a diagnosis like this will decimate a family financially. From the wealthiest family to the less fortunate, you’re going to get hit pretty hard,” says Hall. “So we provide cash grants to these families and say, ‘You take care of the big stuff. We’ll take care of the small stuff.’ And now we’re the leading provider of outreach services for this kind of help in the United States for pediatric brain cancer.”
In addition to charity funds acquired from ticket sales, teams participating in the Hogs for the Cause cook-off compete to raise donations throughout the year. The most recent top fundraising team in New Orleans took in $135,000 for the charity on their own, and Hogs for the Cause has brought this spirit of giving to the Lowcountry. Organizers for the event have been working with MUSC Children’s Hospital to help take care of families receiving treatment in Charleston. Many of these families will be in attendance at Hogs for the Cause Charleston on Oct. 3 at The Grove at Patriots Point in Mt. Pleasant.
“You go to a lot of charity events, and you may pay a little bit of money, but you never really know where those dollars go. We’re not like that,” says Hall. “We’re very transparent about it because we’re very passionate about it. We want everybody that raises this money to be able to see where it’s going and the teams that work so hard to raise this money should be able to meet these families. Everybody stays very close when they do.”
The event will feature live music and barbecue from professional teams throughout Charleston and the Southeast, including Home Team BBQ, Swig and Swine, Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q, Sweatman’s BBQ, and Sticky Fingers. Those who can’t make it to the event can donate online at Hogscharleston.org