Since 1960, the first Saturday in June has meant one thing above all else for the Hamilton Township community: Get hungry.

On June 1, the township obliged as it always has, showing up in droves for the 54th annual Cologne Volunteer Fire Company Chicken BBQ.

Ken Badger, a former Cologne volunteer and current assistant division warden with the New Jersey Forest Fire Service, stopped by for lunch with colleague Jeremy Webber, saying he tries to make it each year.

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"They always have good food," said the Mays Landing resident, who estimated this year's barbecue was his 20th. "They always put out a good meal here, yeah."

The men and women of the fire company and its ladies auxiliary began prepping for the feast about a week before, accumulating and organizing foodstuffs, cleaning, treating and assembling the 20-foot firepit and readying the hall to take in hundreds of visitors.

The company faced a few hiccups in the weeks leading up to the event, ironically suffering a late April fire that caused smoke damage throughout much of the hall and forced the replacement of fixtures, ceilings and the facility's HVAC system. The fire never threatened the barbecue, though, and the hall was back open for business by mid-May.

Twelve hundred chickens were grilled above charcoal flames by firemen and packaged for serving with beans and other fixings by an assembly line of ladies auxiliary members that stretched from the facility's kitchen to its garage.

Ladies auxiliary President Kym Gramm operated the checkout table. Gramm, who has helped out at the Chicken BBQ since joining the ladies auxiliary in 2007, said she always enjoys being part of the festivities.

"I love it; it's great," Gramm said. "Seeing everybody get together and enjoying everybody's company, it's a great value for the money."

The barbecue is the biggest fundraiser of the year for the company, helping to pay for necessary expenses such as a federally mandated radio equipment upgrade, for which the group also received a $13,300 fire grant through the federal Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program in April.

As is the company's usual luck, Chief Shawn Vallauri said, the barbecue met with sunny skies and summer temperatures. And, as always, the community came out to enjoy it.

"We're glad everybody comes out and supports us," said Vallauri, who lives in Mays Landing. "It's just always nice to see everybody kind of come together. It's a lot of work, but it's nice.

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