Local caterer suffers burns

Westendorff

Jamie Westendorff, a local caterer who uses his cooking skills for people in need, was airlifted to Joseph M. Still Burn Center in Augusta on Friday to be treated for burns on his head, face and hands.

He suffered injuries when he was lighting a propane grill at his West Ashley catering business, his wife, Judy Westendorff, said.

"His face is so swollen. When you see him you just want to cry," she said.

Despite his injuries, he joked in the hospital about how surgeons used pig skin to treat the burns. "He was really lucky. He's in good spirits," she said.

Doctors told her Westendorff might leave the hospital today after being treated for second- and third-degree burns. He was lighting the grill to cook Boston butts, she said. "He's really kicking himself for this," she said.

He had second-degree burns to his face, which was bandaged, leaving only his lips and eyes visible, she said. A hospital official said Westendorff was listed in fair condition.

Westendorff is well-known around the Charleston area for his kindness and charity work. For more than a decade, he has cooked for kids with cancer at Camp Happy Days and Special Times. He owns Charleston Outdoor Catering. He serves his popular Frogmore stew and coleslaw at just as many charitable events as he does for profit. "He's a terrific man," said Kathy Britzius, director of the Greater Charleston Restaurant Association.

John Thornhill, co-owner of Charleston Bay Gourmet in Mount Pleasant, said propane is dangerous because it's odorless and doesn't vaporize and dissipate in the atmosphere. For that reason, a propane leak can puddle on a person's skin before igniting, he said.

Thornhill said catering hazards include steaming hot water, oyster knives, fingers nicked on the cutting board and fish fin sticks that get infected. Thornhill said he would review safety procedures with his staff in light of what happened to Westendorff.

Westendorff and Thornhill work together to put on the annual Lowcountry Oyster Festival. "He's a valuable asset to the community. He does more than all of us put together," Thornhill said.

Westendorff's daughter, Jennifer Westendorff-Mallard, said, "I'm just overwhelmed at how much support he has. I just appreciate all the prayers and the calls."

Westendorff has fed the multitudes at the American Lung Association's Camp Puff 'n Stuff to the tune of thousands of dollars out of his pocket. After Hurricane Hugo tore through the state in 1989, Westendorff set up his grills in Marion Square and fed about 20,000 to 30,000 people. Soon after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, he fed crowds of people who showed up wanting to give blood.

Last year, he received The Post and Courier Jefferson Award for Public Service. He was among 60 honorees selected from around the country to attend the organization's national ceremony in Washington, D.C.