Vidalia Police Department’s ‘Back the Blue BBQ Cook Off’ is this weekend

Published 9:55 am Wednesday, November 17, 2021

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VIDALIA — If camping out, barbecue and watching football with friends sounds like a good weekend, imagine doing all of that for a good cause.

The Vidalia Police Department’s first annual “Back the Blue BBQ Cook Off” starts this weekend, Friday through Sunday, at Riverview RV Park. Event proceeds benefit the police department’s Shop with a Cop program, where officers and volunteers take underprivileged local school students on a shopping spree right before the holidays to help ensure they get a Merry Christmas too.

Participants should act as soon as possible to reserve their campsites before the best spots are taken, event organizer Paige Welch said.

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“The sooner they register, the closer they are to the cook off turn in,” she said, adding approximately 15 teams have signed up as of Tuesday.

Campsite reservations are not included with the cook off registration. Teams of any size can register for $200 and must bring their own food and cooking materials.

Welch said it’s not too late to register a team for the barbecue cook off or to become a vendor.

Vendor fees are $75 for a small Arts & Craft booth, $100 for commercial and $150 for food.

Cook off participants should register by no later than noon on Friday, Welch said.

Registration gets them a chance to win cash prizes, a custom trophy made and donated by Southern Designs & Gifts and a sense of fulfillment at having contributed to a good cause.

“It’s hard to describe just seeing their faces,” Welch said of Shop With a Cop. “They can just run down the aisle of Walmart and pick out whatever they want. We also make sure they get whatever clothing staples they need. … If we see that their shoes are too small or the knees of their pants are worn, we will help them pick out a new pair.”

Shop With a Cop would take groups of 10 children at a time for either a breakfast or lunchtime shopping trip at the Vidalia Walmart on Dec. 22. However, Welch said Vidalia Police Chief Joey Merrill has a soft spot for the kids and never turns anyone away.

“Ten kids can easily turn into 30,” she said. “The children are recommended by their teachers and our School Resource Officers and if we find that they have a school age sibling, we don’t turn them down. That is why we’ve started these fundraisers. We want to be able to help every child but our grant funds are limited.”

Welch said the cause has received “amazing support” from sponsors all around the Miss-Lou.

“You mention Shop With a Cop and kids in need and our community really steps up,” she said.
“When it comes time to take the kids, our sponsors will typically show up with a kid in tow, personally taking them to checkout. They never leave us or the kids in our community hanging. Wherever there is a need, they supply that and double it.”

This weekend will have something fun for everyone, Welch said. There will be a flea market, a corn hole tournament, food trucks and hot air balloon tethered rides if weather allows.

On Friday night at approximately 6 p.m., things will kick-off with a meal cooked for law enforcement officers and their families.

With this, there will also be a civilian cooking contests for “anything other than barbecue,” meaning mostly side dishes to help feed the officers.

“The entry fee is $20 for the contest and the prize is bragging rights,” Welch said.

The Delta Charter playoff game will be live streamed Friday night, she said.

Saturday is the main event, as barbecue chefs prepare their choice of chicken, pork ribs, pork and beef brisket. The event will be broadcast by Jimmy “Jim Bob” Allgood with 107.1 the River, 104.7 The Gator and Redneck Adventures.

Overnight guests can warm up Saturday morning between 7 and 8 a.m. with a free cup of coffee with police officers.

Competitors would start turning in their dishes around noon and awards will be given out at 3 p.m., Welch said. At 8 p.m. the Louisiana State University’s game against the University of Louisiana at Monroe will also be live streamed, she said.

To register or find more information, visit or the “Vidalia Police Department’s Back the Blue BBQ Cook Off Vidalia, La” page on social media.

For those who can’t make it, donations can still be made to the Vidalia Police Department with a note indicating it’s for “Shop With a Cop.”

Those who want to volunteer or sponsor a child on the day of the program Dec. 22 can contact the Vidalia Police Department and ask to speak to Paige Welch or email at