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Nice thing happened on the way to the forum, uh, ballpark last night.

OK, not actually going to the Mets game. Twelfth and Imperial is just my transfer point.

So I get off the trolley and smell…barbecue. Then I see…smoke. Lots of it. And people. Lots of them.

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So I follow my nose across Imperial to the parking lot. At first you think, wow, giant tailgate party for the game.

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Then you think, yeah, really giant tailgate party. The place is up in smoke from rows and rows of BBQ grills, and guys with tongs flipping ribs and chicken among leaping flames. And hundreds, thousands of kids and parents. And radio and TV remote ops going on, the whole nine yards.

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Jose, Olga, Kale, Des, volunteers at the 3rd smokeout

“We do this every year,” says this gal Olga who’s serving out ribs and chicken at one of the long tables. “It’s a combination of Phil’s BBQ employees and volunteers with Big Brother, Big Sisters. This is the third year.”

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Olga, Kale

“We have 300 employees,” says Phil Pace, the actual Phil, who’s standing nearby. “125 of them are volunteering here tonight. No pay. How great is that?”

“There are about 3,000 people here,” says the guy next to him, Jeff Loya.

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Phil Pace of Phil's BBQ mans the tongs with co-owner Jeff Loya

Loya and Pace are co-owners. "We donate the food, about 2,500lbs of pork and 1500 chickens, 3,000 pieces," says the Phil.

"We raised $40,000 last year," says Loya. "This year we’re trying to raise $50,000.”

Bottom line: this is the largest BBQ tailgate in Southern California.

Or no: Bottom line is tickets were $25 each for the public. That got you the food and a seat at the ballgame, and more important, all that money went to Operation Bigs, a mentoring program for kids who have a parent deployed in the military overseas.

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