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Cooking for a cause: Glen Ellyn Backyard BBQ to raise funds for Bridge Communities

GLEN ELLYN – In 1988, community volunteers Mark Milligan and Bob Wahlgren founded the Glen Ellyn-based Bridge Communities to help homeless families transition to self-sufficiency.

Helping the nonprofit group in its mission are the organizers of the Glen Ellyn Backyard BBQ, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. The event is completely run by volunteers.

"It's been a wonderful 10 years," said Amy Van Polen, resource development director at Bridge Communities and a member of the event committee. "The event has grown to be a community favorite. We expect to have 3,000-plus people that will come to the event this year."

The 10th annual Glen Ellyn Backyard BBQ will take place from noon to 10 p.m. Sept. 8 in the Glenwood Avenue parking lot on Crescent Boulevard between Main Street and Prospect Avenue in downtown Glen Ellyn, next to Bridge Communities' office. Admission is free. All proceeds from the barbecue go directly to assisting the homeless families served by Bridge Communities.

More than 200 volunteers help put on the event, and more are needed.

"We're catching up a bit, but we need about 40 additional people, mostly in the evening shifts," said volunteer coordinator Kait Miller Balsewicz, who also is volunteering her time. She is the daughter of Chip Miller, who co-chairs the Glen Ellyn Backyard BBQ Committee with Rani McKee.

Volunteers are needed to help man the Piglet Playland children's area, pick up trash and make sure alcohol stays inside the fenced area. Volunteers also are needed to help clean up after the event, Miller Balsewicz said. To sign up to be a volunteer, go to

Sixty-four cooks have signed up to participate in the event, which is the largest amateur barbecue contest in the state, organizers said. They will compete in the categories of best ribs, best chicken, best dish and best sauce.

"The competition is sold out," Van Polen said. "We've been selling out nearly every year for several years. Our competitors report back to us that they really enjoy this event, and we work really hard to take care of them, so they keep coming back year after year and we always get a few new ones. It works out well."

Vendors like Steamboat BBQ, Skuddlebutts and Cape May Crab Cakes also will be selling food at the event, and Two Brothers will be the beer supplier.

"We're going to be doing some special tastings throughout the day with Two Brothers," Van Polen said. "They're going to be doing some special tap times with some of their new drinks and new things. They've been a great partner of ours."

Last year's event raised $57,000 for Bridge Communities, which provides transitional housing and support services to homeless families who live and work in DuPage County. It is one of Bridge Communities' biggest fundraisers.

"That supports about five families for an entire year in our program," Van Polen said. "So it makes a tremendous impact on our program and on the client that we serve. We anticipate raising that, if not more, this year."

There also will be live entertainment throughout the day. Among those scheduled to play are Glenbard West High School graduate Ralph Covert and his band, The Bad Examples, along with his daughter, Fiona Grey.

"That's really exciting," Van Polen said. "Ralph has been a Glen Ellyn staple for a long time and has had really wonderful success both as a musician and as a performer. And his daughter has been experiencing her own wonderful success across the country."

Covert also put together the musical lineup for the day, which can be found on the Glen Ellyn Backyard BBQ's website,

"He just put together, I think, a fantastic lineup," Van Polen said. "We have a really nice combination of different types of bands. He's been a great addition to the committee."

The event also will feature an expanded children's area.

"It really is an event that you can bring your kids to, and they're going to have a good time," she said.


If you go

WHAT: Glen Ellyn Backyard BBQ

WHEN: noon to 10 p.m. Sept. 8

WHERE: Glenwood Avenue parking lot on Crescent Boulevard between Main Street and Prospect Avenue in downtown Glen Ellyn

COST: Free



How to help

More volunteers are needed for the event. To sign up, go to Glen Ellyn Backyard BBQ's website,

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