Tradition to Feed Those in Need Lives on Through the Spirit of “Daddy” Bruce

By Angelia D. McGowan

“You can’t beat love. Nothing beats love. If you give just one thing, you get three things back. That’s why I do it.” – “Daddy” Bruce Randolph

Of all the homes across the world, he moved into the one next to “Daddy” Bruce Randolph’s Bar-B-Q at 34th and Gilpin streets in Denver, Colorado. And it has made a world of difference in the longevity of a tradition started by the iconic restaurateur to feed those in need on Thanksgiving Day.

This Nov. 22 marks the 50th anniversary of a Thanksgiving food giveaway to an average of 10,000 people in honor of Daddy Bruce. The first 25 years, Daddy Bruce provided cooked meals on Thanksgiving Day. After his passing in 1994 at the age of 94, things changed but the sentiment was the same. Salem Baptist Church, and eventually Epworth United Methodist Church (EUMC) distributed baskets the day before the holiday so that families could make their own meals. Today, the honor continues under the Epworth Foundation and the direction of King Harris, EUMC senior pastor along with year-round community outreach headed by assistant pastor Ronald Wooding.

A host of people have stepped in over the years to keep the tradition on track, including Wooding, who says, “I am proud to say today that I had a small role in the continuation of what is now called the “Denver Feed A Family” in honor of Daddy Bruce Randolph.”

Unlike many people who had lined up to volunteer at the giveaway over the years, Wooding did not have that experience. He moved to Denver in 1995 to attend the Iliff School of Theology. He did not meet Randolph or experience his famous barbeque before he passed. In 2002, Wooding had just taken on the role of assistant pastor at Epworth United Methodist Church. A casual mention to someone that he wanted to live close to the church eventually landed him at 3401 Gilpin, where he would live and come to know the legend and spirit of Daddy Bruce.

The Making of a Tradition
Bruce Randolph was born on Feb. 15, 1900, in Pastoria, Arkansas, where his family lived on a small farm. His parents separated when he was young. He lived sporadically with his grandmother, Laura Hurt, whom he credits for his barbeque sauce recipe and his spiritual belief in Christianity. His grandmother and father both were Methodist ministers.

After picking cotton for his step-father for a dime per week, he left home at the age of 15 and went to Little Rock, where he was hired as a water boy at the bauxite mines before talking his way up to becoming a mule driver.  When he was 18 or 19, he bought a hog for $5, used his family recipes, and sold barbeque sandwiches for 10 cents.

Randolph married his first wife, Polly, in 1924. They had two sons, including Bruce Jr., who worked with him at the Denver eatery before starting Daddy Bruce’s Bar-B-Que in Boulder. It was this son who first dubbed him “Daddy Bruce.” Randolph’s wife and other son died, and he moved in with his sister and helped his uncle, a doctor, collect bills, riding by horseback around the region. Daddy Bruce remarried, but the marriage ended in divorce. He became a bootlegger during prohibition, selling whiskey in Coke bottles for 50 cents.

He eventually drifted to Denver, where he became a shoeshine man, then a janitor, before he went into the food business. Designing his own barbeque pit, which he asked an engineer to draw for him, Randolph borrowed $1,000 from the bank and set it up in his son’s backyard and started a catering business. He began feeding the hungry in the late 1960s with a Thanksgiving dinner for 200 people at Denver City Park, where he had carried his portable grill and dished out holiday dinner. The tradition had begun.

Randolph opened Daddy Bruce’s Bar-B-Q in 1963, at the age of 63, on the corner of Gilpin Street and East 34th Avenue. For many years he donated his own time and money to serving Thanksgiving dinners. He later took in donations and many local celebrities – including members of the Denver Broncos, police department, and clergy – helped Daddy Bruce serve tons of turkey, ribs, dressing, potatoes, and yams. He also gave away clothes and food on his birthday, Easter and Christmas. One year he dyed 25,000 eggs for an enormous Easter egg hunt.

Daddy Bruce: The Name
Former First Lady Wilma Webb, at the February 2014 birthday celebration for Daddy Bruce held at Blair Caldwell African American Research Library (BCAARL), said, “He didn’t just talk about giving, he got out there and did something about it. I know the city appreciated him. They named a school after him. Not everybody has a school named after him. I remember him being a man who was blessed, a Christian man.”

Wellington Webb, former Denver Mayor, was also in attendance at the celebration. He recognized Daddy Bruce for being one of the people to leave something behind. That he has done. In 1985, a section of 34th Avenue, from Downing to Dahlia streets, was renamed Bruce Randolph Avenue. In 2008, Bruce Randolph School serving grades 6-12, was named in his honor. At least three proclamations are created in his name each year, from city council, the mayor’s office and the governor’s office, according to Wooding. His face is one of those featured in a mural at the entrance of BCAARL.

The Right Place at the Right Time
Though Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen paid for Randolph’s funeral, the community had raised some funds as well, some of which was used by the Rev. Gil Ford, then of Salem Missionary Baptist Church, to buy food for the needy during Thanksgiving to keep the tradition going. After nearly decade, in 2003, the Epworth Foundation, took the reins of the tradition that so many families had come to depend on to celebrate arguably the most popular holiday in the country. In the midst of the transition, Wooding heard his divine calling.

During the early foggy morning of Nov. 23, 2002, he noticed a lot of tents set up along Bruce Randolph Boulevard as he was driving to Hispanic Worship Service.

“The large crowd of people being served by the numerous of volunteers was amazing to me. The event intrigued me enough that I met the following week with Pastor King Harris and suggested that Epworth United Methodist Church should consider partnering with the organizations that organized this humanitarian event. This effort was definitely a mission outreach project in the community that was worthy of our participation,” he says.

He adds, “Ironically, within two months from my making this suggestion to Pastor Harris, another door was opened for me in the life of Daddy Bruce. I was trying to find a place to live that would be close to Epworth Church.”

Of all the homes across the world, he moved into the one next to “Daddy” Bruce Randolph’s Bar-B-Q at 34th and Gilpin streets in Denver, Colorado. And it has made a world of difference in the longevity of a tradition started by the iconic restaurateur to feed those in need on Thanksgiving Day.

Wooding continues, “The house was on the corner of Bruce Randolph and Gilpin, next door to what had previously been Randolph’s restaurant. The house had been totally remodeled. To my surprise, it was once part of three houses that Daddy Bruce converted to use as part of his restaurant business.”

After moving in, Wooding began meeting the neighbors and archiving the rich stories they had to share about the man known as the “Pied Piper of Denver.” He says, “The highlight of my living in the neighborhood and trying to find out about Daddy Bruce was meeting his son Bruce Randolph Jr. Bruce the son is the spitting image of his father and in his own quiet and humble way a legend. I met Cellia Oliver who lived on Randolph Street and had worked at the restaurant. Oliver took pleasure in giving the details of the time that Oprah Winfrey came to eat at the restaurant and how all the staff got a chance to meet Oprah personally.”

So it was no surprise that when he saw a lot of commotion in front of the building one evening that he wanted to investigate. Wooding says, “One night in mid-October of 2003 I was coming home and saw a television truck in front of my house. As the crew was setting up to do a newscast on the corner, I asked what was happening and they told me that the Daddy Bruce Thanksgiving was going to be cancelled that year because the former sponsoring church Salem Baptist was not going to do the event.”

He continues, “I knew Tamara Banks, the anchor person (at KWGN-TV) assigned to do the story. I spoke with her and thankfully she was aware of my efforts to get Epworth involved in helping with the event that year. She gave me the number of the former pastor of Salem Baptist. I immediately called him and put him and pastor King Harris on the phone. A meeting was set up for the next day and it was decided that Epworth would help in keeping the event alive.”

Banks, today a freelance journalist and documentary filmmaker, says, “The reason I did the story was because it was a good story. Daddy Bruce’s life, legacy and how he’d helped so many people are important and relevant for a story. I had no idea that it would turn the tide and keep the Thanksgiving event going. I look back at that moment when I was told the food distribution was in jeopardy and I realize God put me right where I was supposed to be and then gave me direction to get the story on the air.”

She adds, “I don’t think many (if any) other people in the newsroom understood the magnitude and significance of the Daddy Bruce Thanksgiving dinner and later, the food giveaway. Certainly, people knew it was a nice holiday story but very few people understood his true legacy. This is a perfect example of why diversity in newsrooms is so important.”

Epworth: That Church on Bruce Randolph & High Street
With shopping carts and boxes on the ground, Harris, his congregation at Epworth United Methodist Church and volunteers filled used shopping carts and disbursed food from box to box. They handed out 2,000 baskets the first year.

Harris says, “It would have been bad for legacy to disappear and for families not to have. It is the most amazing project personally I have ever been involved with. We have to turn people away. Never had to do that. The giveaway is now part of the fabric of this community. It ties together the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ – those who need and those who have donated working side by side.”

Interestingly, the fundraising has been a year-by-year challenge, says Harris. In the early days it was nerve-wracking. One year he was deep in a fundraising campaign and needed to raise $134,000 but he had to leave town on a church assignment. While away, he received an unexpected call from a Sam’s Club representative saying they didn’t have $134,000, but they did have $124,000. The church still had to write a check for $10,000.”

As of October this year, the need is at $234,000, but Harris has learned not to worry, “God’s got it = just got to wait for him to work it out. It’s amazing a little church congregation like ours can raise in excess of $200,000 in the past; $300,000 is expected to be raised this year.”

Even with the work the church has done over the years, he finds it funny that most people don’t know their name. “That church at the corner of Randolph and High Street is where you go. That’s what people know,” says Harris, who is scheduled to retire June 30, 2015. “I salute Gil Ford for what he did and the legacy he created. If he hadn’t done what he did, there wouldn’t be anything for Epworth to take over.”

Wooding believes everyone can keep the tradition going from corporate sponsors to individuals and cautions everyday people “not to forget that it is your financial donations and volunteer support that makes this the event that the community, the city and this country can be proud of.”

He notes one of the long-term partnerships as being very necessary. “Denver is one city where no one should go hungry. But people slip through the cracks, especially seniors. Metro Cab has been the longest (sponsor) to deliver to seniors and disabled. They volunteer their time, their gas and use their automobiles. Volunteers do ride with taxi drivers to help them make the deliveries.”

More Than a Basket
“A lot of people are not interested in history of Daddy Bruce, just a basket,” says Wooding, who teaches Randolph’s model of giving at Iliff School of Theology and whose personal mission is for new generations to know about the man. He is helping to produce a documentary scheduled to be screened in Denver in February 2015, titled “Keep A Light In Your Window.” More than 50 people will present their perspective of Daddy Bruce, down to his fatherly habit of standing at the corner making sure children got safely across the street when going to and from school.

An estimated 1,200 volunteers sign up annually, but mostly to volunteer on that day. Wooding says they also need people ahead of time. They are getting help from Project Management Institute (PMI), which over time will document the process for others to use. Bob Kois, a PMI-certified lecturer with the University of Colorado at Boulder and Denver, as well as the Denver Institute for Urban Studies and American Pathways University, teaches the PMI class in the Five Points neighborhood.

“We’ve been active in the neighborhood for about five years. Ronald has been a guest speaker for about four years talking about the Daddy Bruce event,” says Kois, who grew up in the Five Points neighborhood, eating Bruce’s BBQ. “We would help him brainstorm. Daddy Bruce is probably the biggest one we’ve done in Colorado. People who live to serve like to serve. If they are trained better, they work better. If we can help you do something better, we do it.”

Kois adds, “Everybody has ownership in the success (of Daddy Bruce)” and referred to a time when Daddy Bruce’s restaurant was closed because of unpaid taxes. Once people learned they came down and provided enough money to pay the taxes.
It was an experience Bruce Randolph, Jr. recalled during the February 2014 birthday celebration. He credits Jim “Dr. Daddio” Walker, at the time owner of KDKO Radio, for making that happen by getting on the radio and telling people to come down. Everyone from neighborhood residents to Denver Bronco’s members made donations. Dr. Daddio continues to shed light on community happenings on KOA 760 Talk Radio.

Editor’s note: For more information, call Ronald Wooding at 720-319-1491 or email

The basket giveaway will happen Nov. 22 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Epworth United Methodist Church at 1865 Bruce Randolph Ave., at the corner of 34th Ave. and High St. People who just show up and ask for a basket on Nov. 22, unfortunately, will not be able to get one, so it’s important for families to sign up online or show up in person at the church to be able to pick up a basket. Operating under a foundation, it’s important for each basket to be accounted for according to Wooding. Go to to sign up.

Fundraising Events for 50th Anniversary of Daddy Bruce Thanksgiving Distribution

An art exhibit celebrating Daddy Bruce will be held for the entire month of November at BCAARL, which celebrates its 11-year anniversary this year. There will also be fundraisers throughout the city.

One ticket purchased will support three events. Proceeds from ticket sales will go towards purchasing Thanksgiving baskets for the “Daddy” Bruce Thanksgiving Distribution. Baskets cost $30 and will feed a family of eight. All donations accepted. Make checks payable to the Epworth Foundation (For Daddy Bruce Thanksgiving).

The annual fundraisers will kick off on Nov. 7 at Bogeys on the Park from 6 to 10 p.m. at 2500 York St. in Denver. Light refreshments will be served 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Entertainment includes Mr. Charles and the Let’s Start Dancing Crew, Dave Carver, Detroit Ball Room Style Dancing Group, David “Pic” Conley of Surface, Linda Theus Lee and others.

The second event will be held on Nov. 14 at Cleatz Sports Bar and Grill from 6 to 10 p.m. at 8336 Northfield Blvd., in Denver. The third event will be held on Nov. 21 at Cherry Creek Harbour from 6 to 10 p.m., at 13740 East Quincy Ave. #9 in Aurora 80015. Entertainment will include Dave Carver, D Style Ball Room Dancing Group.

For more information, call Ronald Wooding at 720-319-1491 or email