At community dinners, Papa June’s BBQ offers free food to those in need

Photo by Asha Blake

Ravenna resident Forrest Calhoun — aka Papa June — has always had a passion for cooking and finds joy in watching others enjoy the meals he makes with care.

That’s why Calhoun, 50, established his food pop-up tent, Papa June’s BBQ, in April 2021. What’s noteworthy isn’t just his business — it’s that he serves free food to people experiencing homelessness in the community. 

Papa June’s BBQ hosts events for the Ravenna community at least twice a week. In mid-August, Calhoun put together a community dinner at the King Kennedy Community Center where he provided free food to more than 250 people. He’s also been hired by other establishments to cook and serve his food for their events. 

“I’ve always loved to cook,” Calhoun said. “People would always say ‘Man, June, your food is good.’”

His beloved nickname, Papa June, derived from his grandchildren. 

“We were sitting around the house one day, and my [grandson] said to me ‘Papa June! Papa June!’” Calhoun said. “His mom was like ‘No, don’t call him Papa June. It’s just Papa.’ And it stuck with me.”

Most of the events that are served by Calhoun’s pop-up tent are family-friendly gatherings that are sponsored by the King Kennedy Community Center. After the events are over, many of the unhoused people stay back after events are over to help clean. Calhoun makes sure to show his appreciation for their help.

“[The less] fortunate people are just sitting back right here looking at all the food, cleaning up after people,” Calhoun said. “I felt bad because nobody offered them people nothing to eat. Not even a hotdog or a burger. So now, I’m making sure I [can] feed them first before the public.

“Any event that we do up here, we have to make sure that everybody here gets something to eat instead of walking around with an empty plate.”

Community care is a concept that Frank Hairston cherishes.

“I’m always looking back to see those who come behind me,” said Hairston, a longtime resident of Portage County and community organizer. “They don’t have to imitate me but I like them [because] they imitate God.” 

And he believes Calhoun epitomizes that spirit.

Hairston has been a family friend of the Calhoun family for over 50 years. Throughout the years, he has watched Calhoun create love and strong bonds with members of the Ravenna community through his flavorful, home-cooked food and delightful personality.

“I think that June has the personality of God’s gift to us,” Hairston said. “He uses that to make other people happy.” 

Calhoun hopes other food vendors holding events in Portage County will follow in his footsteps and take those who are less fortunate into consideration.

Jala Forest
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