The first time “Big Momma” got involved with the Hope for Firefighters event, she supplied 50 pounds of potato salad. That amount has grown exponentially with each year since. Of the 2012 event, she said, “We did 600 pounds this year.” Her passion for providing food to firefighters began long ago.

She remembers hearing “fire wagons” racing back and forth in her home city of Memphis, seemingly all day and night. She said, “That means they weren’t getting their nourishment.” So, she and her family started bringing food to the local stations, a tradition she carried with her to Southern California when her cousin, a Chief Petty Officer in the Navy, was stationed on the USS Kitty Hawk.

Through charm and dedication, she’s amassed an impressive list of suppliers and a team of 15 volunteers that help provide, prepare and deliver food to stations, fundraisers and incidents all over the city. One such volunteer is “Mr. Mike,” who carts food to locations in his ’67 Chevy. (Big Momma said they pack it so full and it gets so heavy, it looks like a low-rider.) And she looks for any opportunity to enlist more help. She once loaded her uncle’s truck with pork loin before he left for church when she found out he’d be driving near a station that needed it.

Her lifelong dedication to firefighters stems from a simple observation. “They put their lives on the line,” she said. “We don’t have what they have to knock [fires] out… They don’t get the recognition they deserve.”

But, what really motivated her was the urging of an LAFD engineer. “It was Harry Correll,” she said. “He made me promise to take care of the fellas.”

Though Correll passed away in 2007, she kept that promise and lived up to her moniker. She has playful nicknames for many of the firefighters and refers to all of them as “my boys” or “my guys.” They treat her like a mother as well, offering hugs and appreciation. Once, they even coaxed her into a fire truck for a ride up a hill to an event – something she swears never to do again because of the difficulty getting in and out of the vehicle. She joked, “I am not a Laker girl. I do not do the fire truck.”

There seems to be no bounds to her generosity or her drive. She’s currently working on finding cheese, egg and juice vendors willing to donate product and hopes to stretch the reach of her team, too. “We’ve been trying to get into the valley,” she said.

As for next year’s Hope event, she expects to bring a staggering 1,000 pounds of potato salad.

By David Vienna