Big Heart Brigade has lots on its plate ahead of Turkey Day

There will be fewer empty plates this Thanksgiving, thanks to the big hearts that make up the Big Heart Brigade of the Treasure Coast. Each year since 2008, firefighters and other local leaders have gathered the week leading up to the holiday, cooking birds and fixing the trimmings for thousands of residents in St. Lucie, Indian River and Martin counties.

“We’re actually cutting it close,” President Joe Payne said of the Brigade’s budget this year. That’s because St. Lucie has stepped in to help out Martin County’s crew, which hasn’t been able to get the time off needed to get their cooking done.

“We have to do this,” Payne said of helping Martin County. “We can’t let them down.”

He has been able to cajole his St. Lucie troops into doubling their prepping and cooking without issue.

The Big Heart Brigade will serve up individual plates of Thanksgiving feasts to members of the community as well as provide full meals to be shared among fire stations, the 911 dispatch call centers and other agencies that require personnel report on the holiday. “We want to give something back to them,” Payne said of feeding the emergency responders.

Many times, firefighters’ families come to the fire station to eat with their loved ones between calls, according to Payne.

Payne is seeking monetary donations that will go toward offsetting the cost of food. A $25 donation is enough to feed a family for Thanksgiving, he said.

St. Lucie’s Big Heart team will be delivering meals to various trailer park communities, churches and veterans groups.

And while the team has plenty of volunteers to prep and cook, Payne said they’re lacking delivery drivers – those who can take the meals out into the community.

“Deliveries are the biggest hurdle,” he said, explaining that the volunteers who put in the long and early hours cooking do their best to deliver, but sometimes just can’t.

Anyone interested in volunteering to deliver meals is encouraged to reach out to the Big Heart Brigade’s volunteer coordinator, Catherine Chaney, by calling 772-621-3371.

Payne said he has seen the impact firsthand of the Thanksgiving Day meal deliveries. He explained that he had been out on a call the day after to a home in Spanish Lakes. The family being responded to was one who got a Big Heart Brigade meal.

“It was just enough meal for us,” Payne recalled the man telling him, grateful for the Thanksgiving meal.

“One simple meal made an impact,” Payne said for himself.

For more information on the Big Heart Brigade, to volunteer or to donate, visit or find them on Facebook at    

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