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We Are One Cookout to feed Lincoln protest marchers Saturday
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We Are One Cookout to feed Lincoln protest marchers Saturday

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Cookout

Cole Cramer (from left), Jacob Wohl and John Grubbs pose for a portrait inside the Venue Restaurant and Lounge on Thursday. The trio is hosting a cookout for almost 3,000 people outside the state Capitol on Saturday. "We are just trying to bring the community together the only way we know how — with food," Jacob said.

Two weeks ago, a Lincoln protest march — triggered by the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer — turned violent when the EZ Go convenience store at 26th and O streets had its windows broken, and then was looted hours later.

Saturday, a protest march will turn into something far different — a cookout designed to bring the community together while supporting the goals of the protest and march.

The We Are One Cookout concept originated from an idea CJ Ways proposed to John Grubbs when the two were talking about the EZ Go looting.

“In Lincoln, we always pull together and come together as one and join hand in hand, to make sure that everyone is taken care of," Grubbs said. “When everything started getting looted and I was just like ‘This isn't the Lincoln I know,’ the idea just kind of sparked."

Why not a cookout?

"Some of the best times I've ever had are at a cookout," he said. "That's where people come together and just become one.”

Last weekend, Grubbs and his friend Jacob Wohl decided to get serious about organizing a cookout for thousands of people and began laying the groundwork for the event.

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They hit up their contacts in the city’s restaurant and bar community and looked for volunteers, while figuring out where, when and how to pull it all together.

They started collecting money and donations on Monday, and after meeting with state and city officials, got the site and necessary permits for the cookout on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Saturday’s march is set to begin at noon at the Nebraska Union, moving down Centennial Mall to the Capitol. An hour later, as it's expected to be nearing the Capitol, the march will hit the cookout site on Centennial Mall between L and K streets.

As they walk, they’ll be able to pick up some classic cookout fare.

“We're doing hot dogs, bags of chips and bottles of water — simple,” Wohl said. “There’s a bunch of actual trained chefs going to cook, a bunch of grills getting donated to help out. There's going to be lines of tables and people just handing out food left and right.”

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Those serving the food will be wearing gloves and masks. The tables will be spaced to allow for social distancing, and the food preparation will be done to health department standards by people with food-handling permits.

“I do giant high end-outdoor catering all the time," said Wohl, who is the catering and events operation manager at Venue Restaurant, 4111 Pioneer Woods Road. Venue is not a sponsor of the cookout. "So, I'm very very well trained on this subject. We have (masks) donated, gloves, hairnets, everything you can possibly imagine. We’ll have hand-washing stations. It's going to be as sanitary as we can make it.”

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Organizers estimate that Saturday’s march, which begins at noon, could draw as many as 5,000 people.

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“We're definitely not going to serve 5,000 people, but 2,000, 3,000 people, probably,” Wohl said. “Whatever food we have, we’ll serve. 

“Really the only message that I want to get across is that one word, togetherness. I just want everyone to come up and be a part of it, you know, unite the people with the power of food.”

More than 50 volunteers have signed up to help out. Wohl will hold a training session for them at the Grand Manse at 9 a.m. Saturday morning.

On Tuesday, the We Are One Cookout set up a GoFundMe page with the goal of raising $6,000 to pay for the food. As of Wednesday night, it had received more than $2,000 in donations.

Paper plates, condiments and other items also have been donated, primarily from locally owned businesses.

More donations, especially bottled water, are needed for Saturday, Wohl said. Those who would like to donate can drop it off at the cookout site after 9 a.m. Saturday.

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The organizers will also take cash donations at the cookout. Those funds will go to Visionary Youth, a nonprofit created by Kwabena Mensah, owner of Oasis Barbershops.

In its first year of operation, Visionary Youth has provided assistance to 3,000 children by providing toys at Christmas, school supplies and haircuts. Any money donated to the cookout’s GoFundMe after Saturday will be donated to Visionary Youth.

The cookout is a concept Grubbs hopes other cities consider.

“I'm hoping it spreads,” Grubbs said. “I hope people can take a page out of this and just be like, 'Let's have a cookout, let's come together and let's be one.’ Like, it doesn't matter who you are, come down, break bread. That's the main goal.

"I just want my community to come together.”

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Photos, videos: Lincoln protests

Reach the writer at 402-473-7244 or kwolgamott@journalstar.com. On Twitter @KentWolgamott  

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Entertainment reporter/columnist

L. Kent Wolgamott, the recipient of the 2018 Mayor’s Arts Award, has written about arts and entertainment for Lincoln newspapers since 1985, reviewing thousands of movies and concerts and hundreds of art exhibitions.

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