The UFCW is into food, not fighting.
"But several people have approached our trailer, very excited because they thought we are the Ultimate Fighting Champions," Caitlin Blair said with a chuckle. "That’s always funny."
Blair is communications and political director of Louisville-based United Food and Commercial Workers Local 227 in Kentucky. The local is proud of its custom-made trailer that volunteers pull around the state, mainly to raise money for members in financial straits.
For the record: The UFC is mixed martial arts; the UFCW is a mix of workers employed in industry and retailing, mostly involving manufacturing, processing and selling foodstuffs.
Anyway, the big, four-wheel trailer, which features a fully equipped kitchen, is decorated with union logos and photos of Local 227 members superimposed over a waving Stars and Stripes. "A voice for working people" is emblazoned on the sides.
"Harold Embry did all the custom work on our trailer to make it the perfect way to bring people together," Blair said.
One side opens as a serving counter with a rollout awning to shield eaters from the sun and rain.
The trailer is air-conditioned and has tables, cooking gear and a toilet. It also is equipped with a portable grill that can be rolled out for cookouts.
The trailer is towed behind a shiny red Dodge diesel truck.
Local 227 bought the trailer to prepare and sell food to raise money for Local 227 members who need extra cash for medical bills or for other emergencies, such as losing their homes to fires or storms.
"However, the Louisville heath department recently told us we can’t sell food anymore unless we want to become a food truck," Blair said. "So, we are exploring different ways that the trailer can be used to bring union members together."
To that end, a crew transported the trailer 235 miles from Falls City to the annual Fancy Farm political picnic in Graves County, about as far west as Kentucky goes.
"We sent out over 2,200 text messages to our union members who live in and work in the area around Fancy Farm," Blair explained. "We had 100-plus union members and their families come and visit us."
The picnic is famous for barbecue and political speechmaking, both spicy hot. "We can serve food, but we can’t sell food," she said.
Blair’s husband, Bob, the Local 227 president, bought 20 pounds of hickory-smoked pork and 10 pounds of mutton at the barbecue stand and gave it away as sandwiches or piled on plates.
"We wanted our members to have an opportunity to come and get free barbecue through the union and enjoy the picnic and the company of each other," said Caitlin, who had fun at the picnic, too.
"We also fed any UFCW 227-endorsed candidates and their families and brothers and sisters from other unions who stopped by to say hello."
Jeff Pleasant drove the trailer from Louisville, with Ray Fields riding shotgun. Kevin Diale of Nortonville and Jack Green of Mayfield showed up to help staff it for the picnic festivities.
The crew also gave away bright yellow Local 227 T-shirts to members.
The trailer idea emerged from a staff brainstorming session at the UFCW headquarters about two years ago. "We were looking at different ways to engage members and also serve communities where our members live," Caitlin said. "So, we came up with the idea of the trailer. We essentially equipped it with everything you would need to run a food truck because as a food workers union, we take the health and safety of the folks we are serving very seriously."
She added: "We use the trailer primarily for a union member who has a serious hardship. We pull the trailer to wherever that member is from, and union members volunteer to help their fellow union member by cooking and serving food and raising money for that individual."
Kristah Barrett arranges and coordinates scheduling for the trailer.
Blair recalled a Local 227 member from Campbellsville. "His four-year-old daughter was diagnosed with leukemia. Every Thursday he has to take off work to take her to Louisville to get a spinal tap. So not only is he having to take off work and not make money, but he is also having to spend money on gas."
Blair said a pair of local radio stations also pitched in and promoted the fundraiser all day. "With their help, we were able to raise over $3,000 for that member, and because the radio stations helped, too, people in the community heard that the union was doing this great thing."
Parked back at the hall, the trailer was the main attraction at Local 227’s celebration of the UFCW’s founding on Aug. 12, 1902. "We just asked for donations, and we cooked and served food with the trailer. We also had bouncy houses, a dunk tank and a live band.
"We were able to raise $2,000 dollars to benefit union members and their families. We also invited the surrounding neighbors to join us for some great food and for a really inexpensive way to entertain their families while helping a great cause."
The trailer is a head-turner, on the road or parked. "People do come up and ask us what we’re doing," Blair said. "They’re always really happy to know that we’re members of the community—union members supporting other union members.
"Several times somebody driving by would turn around, stop, and give us a donation because they had seen us somewhere else and knew our union trailer was there to help somebody in need."
This post originally appeared at Kentucky State AFL-CIO.