Like many good stories, Wings 4 Water’s began with a challenge. In 2017 Chris Turney, a Lee’s Summit resident and local attorney, had a buddy who threw down the gauntlet, saying, "I bet my chicken legs are better than your chicken wings.” The challenge was accepted, a neighborhood party was planned, and grills were fired up. When the smoke cleared, a winner was declared. The winner? Well, it’s not called Legs 4 Water!
Since then, Wings 4 Water has taken flight. The money from that first friendly competition resulted in 40 people having purified drinking water for life. Seeing the potential for a larger community initiative and fundraising opportunities, Chris established a 501c3 nonprofit organization and secured corporate sponsors.
“You eat wings, they drink water” is the slogan for Wings 4 Water. On the day of the event, typically a Thursday in early September, contestants set up tents and prepare their wings for the competition. Gates open to the public in the early evening and guests can walk from tent to tent, sampling each contestant's wings. The event is free to enter, but guests are encouraged to vote with monetary donations for their favorite wings. The team with the most money raised at the end of the evening is the winner.
While there is simplicity in just serving wings, there is still strategy in the planning. The goal is to successfully balance the number of wings donated with the number of sponsors to cook them and how many people will show up to eat them.
Those predictions have grown every year.
In 2021, the event drew approximately 2,000 guests, had 34 competitors, and 76 cases of wings were donated by Tyson. They raised more than $25,000. This year, there were over 40 competitors, and Tyson pledged over 100 cases of wings.
“It has come a long way,” Turney reflects. “We now allocate about 400 wings per tent. We have an on-line voting platform so people walk from tent to tent, eat a chicken wing and vote by scanning a QR code. There is a live leader board which shows who is in the lead and who is close. Minutes before we shut down, a lot of vote dollars come in, especially with the second and third placed competitors.”
An avid Chiefs fan, Chris says it is natural to kick off the football season with an event that celebrates wings. With help from Logistics Coordinator and Lee’s Summit resident Brad Harsha, this year’s event was held at the new Paragon Star facility. Taking place on the eve of the season’s first Red Friday, it hosted The Kansas City Chief's Training Lab, a mobile exhibit that focuses on mental, physical, and social health. Several previous NFL players also helped comprise the pool of celebrity judges. Historically, the very first event was held on the Chiefs’ season opener when they beat the New England Patriots. It just so happens that the “leg guy” is a Patriot’s fan.
A family event, Chris says, “My kids love it. My wife loves it. All of them are heavily involved.” Chris carves out a portion of the event that is run solely by the Emerging Leaders Committee, a group of high school volunteers. Last year, they managed all aspects of the drink tent. The goal is to give the students some real-life business experience and learn leadership skills.
Chris approaches the event lightheartedly but the mission to bring healthy water to villages across the world is important work. Wings 4 Water has supported organizations that provide water filters globally, and has also partnered with Agua Viva International. Agua Viva focuses on installing water panels in Third World villages. According to Jim Allen, Chairman for Agua Viva, “Almost one billion people worldwide have no access to purified drinking water.” Making a small dent in that number through philanthropic eating,
Wings 4 Water has provided access to viable drinking water to over 6000 people.
In addition to making a global impact, Wings 4 Water also supports several local nonprofits. During the Covid year, Wings 4 Water contributed to a program through Lee’s Summit Social Services that provided water bill relief for residents, primarily the elderly population, who had lost benefits or family support. Chris acknowledges that “the community of Lee’s Summit has been a huge reason for our success” and is eager to give back.
When asked why he fits this event into an already busy life of managing a career and raising two teens, Chris says, “I feel like all things come from God, all good things do. So I think this was an idea from God, and I feel some level of responsibility to keep it going because it’s making an impact, and it’s a great way to bring community together.”
Plus, Chris says with a grin, “my long-term goal is for Lee’s Summit to be the Wing Capital of the world.”
To learn more, follow Wings 4 Water on Facebook or its website www.w4wkc.org.