Local 48 Business Manager Garth Bachman and Kennitha Wade, journeyman wireman and executive board member, handed out hot meals and chatted with members they hadn’t seen since before the pandemic during the local’s innovative drive-thru picnic.

Drivers rarely look as delighted behind the wheel as those who pulled into the parking lot of Portland, Ore., Local 48 on two sunny Sundays in July.

Slowly, they circled the union hall, inhaling the smell of barbecued brisket as they stopped at stations to pick up IBEW swag, fresh, hot meals, and, for lucky raffle winners, big prizes.

Everyone was so happy,” said Local 48 communications director Tracey Powers who conceived the idea of a drive-thru picnic. “It was a very fun environment. We haven’t gotten to see our members in almost two years.”

Business Representative Donna Hammond, left, with volunteers Ed Drapeau and Lillian Buckin, at the picnic’s final stop, where raffle winners picked up prizes that included tablets, TVs, drills, and much more.

Last summer, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the local to cancel its traditional picnic, a much-anticipated festival of solidarity and family fun at a small amusement park.

Local leaders hated to think about skipping it again this year, but safety came first.

Then inspiration struck Powers: a way to have a celebration with little risk of spreading the virus.

She took her idea to the Executive Board and got a green light, along with a healthy budget — even if the support came with a dose of skepticism.

“Tracey is a good planner, but it was a big idea,” said board member and journeyman wireman Kennitha Wade. “It was like listening to something in theory and wondering if it can be pulled off.”

By all accounts, it was — and then some.

“It went flawlessly, and that’s all due to Tracey,” Business Manager Garth Bachman said. “It was pretty expensive, but it was worth it. Our membership loved it.”

Powers nailed down every detail, from the catering and raffle, the stations and volunteers, the traffic pattern and a sign-up schedule with time slots assigned to members over the course of four hours on each Sunday.

Nearly 1,700 members, some with eager kids and dogs in tow, picked up meals for their families — averaging about four meals per car, she said.

Retired journeyman wireman Byran Sutherland was exuberant.

“I thought it was brilliant,” he said. “The traditional picnic is a great time. But right now the world’s in upheaval and we can’t gather the way we have in the past.”

Sutherland ached to mingle with his union brothers and sisters, the one thing the drive-thru event couldn’t accommodate.

“It was so tempting to park and get out to visit,” he said. “At least we got to see a bunch of smiling faces. And the food was so good.”

On top of that, he had a winning raffle ticket, taking home a set of top-notch wireless headphones.

“The picnics always have big prizes,” he said. “They try to focus on American-made. They’re really thoughtful gifts.”

Powers said members drew raffle tickets at the first station, where they also picked up IBEW T-shirts and “IBEW Proud Union Home” lawn signs.

Lucky tickets had numbers that corresponded to specific items waiting for winners at the last station, everything from iPads, smart watches and TVs to drills, blenders, coffeemakers, vacuums, and more.

The community won, too, starting with the giant order of barbecue and side dishes catered by a family-owned business, McKillips’s.

The company set up massive grills in the parking lot to prepare fresh chicken and brisket — “it was to die for,” Bachman said — and enlisted high school baseball and volleyball players to package the feasts in exchange for donations to their teams.

For Sutherland, the innovative picnic “was one more thing that makes me proud to part of the IBEW.”

“The organizers did a great job. They had the flow going perfectly,” he said. “I think of it like a jobsite — our people are organized, they are smart, and they know how to get things done.”

See more of the picnic in Local 48’s photo gallery.