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Barbecue joint dishes out hometown fare for USO

For Martha Kelley and George Richburg, it meant 400 hot dogs a month. But for the soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, it meant a comfort meal welcoming them home.

Since 2005, the owners of Hometown Barbecue in Lawrenceville have been donating hot dogs, buns and pots of chili every month to the United Service Organization's Operation R&R. The food is then served to soldiers passing through the Atlanta airport, heading home from the Middle East for two weeks' leave.

"They are not only serving meals, they are serving their country," said Max Torrence, a Vietnam War veteran and USO volunteer.

As one of two hubs - the other is Dallas - for passing soldiers, Atlanta's USO network stays busy, and volunteers such as Kelley and Richburg are treasures.

"They are a couple of great Americans, who are freely giving of their time and money out of their own pockets to support American soldiers," said Torrence, who presented the owners with their second USO Distinguished Service Award on Wednesday.

Humbly, Kelley played off the recognition and awards, noting that she and Richburg were merely doing their part. The restaurant owners have no direct connection with the military, and decided to volunteer supplies and time simply because "it is a little something we can do to give back to the community and the country."

Sitting on the mantle of Hometown Barbecue, the two plaques are on display. Though Kelley feels a pride for her work each time she walks by the awards, nothing compares to the dedication she feels to these soldiers.

"Some people have said that they think it's this great thing we are doing, but really, it's just us doing our part," Kelley said. "We are very happy to do it."

When Kelley and Richburg aren't preparing the mounds of food for the monthly USO donations, they're serving up Hometown's specialty - barbecued ribs. Smothered in a sauce made in-house, Hometown's ribs are a favorite in the area.

"Hometown's food is amazing. These soldiers are very lucky," Torrence said. "They have the best ribs in Georgia."

To this compliment, Kelley doesn't shy away. She knows good food when she makes it, and she makes it daily.

"We make our own sauce, and we have own brand of barbecue and ribs," she said. "Oh yeah, I would agree it's some of the best food in the state."

Hometown Barbecue is located at 1173 U.S. Highway 29 in Lawrenceville. For more information, call 770-963-5383.

Do your part

The United Service Organization provides a link between the general public and military personnel, and relies on the generosity of others to stay in existence.

Whether it's donating food, funds or time, the USO can use your help. Here's how to play a part in supporting troops overseas:

•Make a donation: General monetary donations can be made by calling 1-800-876-7469 or online at www.uso.org. Donations of stocks, such as mutual or corporate fund stocks, and donations through planned giving (donating in honor of an individual, for example) can be made through the USO Web site.

The USO offers a send-a-gift campaigns, such as Operation Phone Home, which provides calling cards to soldiers. Through donation drives, people can donate gift cards or donate through eBay and other programs. For information, visit www.uso.org

•Become a partner: Companies can partner with the USO, by making in-kind donations of services and products or by organizing fundraisers. For more information, e-mail the USO Coordinator of Corporate Alliances at ccurry@uso.org.

•Become a volunteer: The USO is run by volunteers, and individuals or groups are welcome. Volunteers conduct various tasks, from preparing care packages and welcoming troops home to helping a soldier find a connecting flight. Occasionally, overseas volunteer opportunities arise. For more information or for a volunteer list directory, visit www.uso.org or e-mail jobs@uso.org.