Buy a skillet, save a way of life
EC: After the Gatlinburg Fire, a Cast-Iron Maker and Dolly Parton Step Up to Help
Credit: Photo Courtesy of Lodge Manufacturing

A well-made cast-iron skillet can last a lifetime with proper care (we have mentioned that a time or two). Now one of America’s most beloved cast-iron producers is making sure there is indeed a future for a community in peril. In late November, a massive fire—now believed to be the result of two teenage boys flicking matches along a trail for “fun”—ripped through the city of Gatlinburg, Tennessee, killing 14 people, damaging or destroying more than 2500 businesses and homes, burning 17,000 acres, and causing a week-long evacuation at the height of tourist season. Though the downtown area was mostly spared, there was plenty of devastation left to deal with. The employees of the Lodge Manufacturing Company sprung into action.

Lodge has crafted its signature cookware in nearby South Pittsburg, Tennessee, since 1896, and maintains two factory stores in the area, in Sevierville and Pigeon Forge. The company’s longtime PR and advertising manager, Mark Kelly, explained in an email that two of his colleagues lost their homes and possessions in the fires, and one lost his car. “We took up a collection here at Lodge for the two employees, raising $1,700. They were blown away,” Kelly said.

Soon after, the team saw a video that country music legend Dolly Parton filmed on behalf of the Dollywood Foundation’s "My People Fund," which offers to provide $1000 each month for up to six months to Sevier County families who lost their homes in the fires. Since 2002, Lodge’s Sevierville company store has sold an exclusive special-edition Great Smoky Mountains Skillet. Last Friday, the company’s retail manager, Walker Henley, checked the remaining inventory—882 skillets—and Lodge offered them for sale online for the first time on Monday, pledging to donate $15 of each skillet’s $30 price to the My People Fund. Four and a half hours after the company's social media posts went up, the skillets were sold out, raising $13,230 for the cause.

As a result of this overwhelming response, the company announced today that it will be producing another round of Great Smoky Mountain skillets to be sold online exclusively. They'll be available on the Lodge site as of December 14, and $15 from each skillet purchased will go to the My People Fund.

“We all love the Smoky Mountain National Park, and we all visit the park several times a year and we admire Dolly Parton’s work in her hometown so much, we wanted to help out the best way we could,” Kelly explained. (He personally bought seven skillets to give as holiday gifts.)

This was hardly Lodge’s first foray into charitable efforts; it’s part of their core, said Kelly. In September alone, the company presented presented $25,240.85 worth of checks to three area charities—The Marion County Food Bank, The Marion County Good Neighbors, and the Marion County Children’s Fund—generated by the auction of 120 specially designed 120th anniversary skillets.

“Appalachia continues to struggle with poverty. While we can’t overcome all the problems, we can lend a helping hand,” Kelly wrote. And that’s how a community forges ahead—one pan at a time.