When their friend Will Wellman (second from right in photo above) was diagnosed with a rare kidney disease called focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS) at just 25, a group of Tampa natives — Chris Whitney, Ryan Reynolds, Wes Tolbert and Vince Chillura (left to right) — decided to host an event to cheer him up and, hopefully, raise money to research a cure.
The inaugural Pig Jig, hosted in Chillura’s Hyde Park backyard in 2011, was simply a four-team barbecue contest with music and football in the background. Still, it brought over a hundred people and $6,000 in donations for NephCure International, a nonprofit seeking a cure for FSGS and nephrotic syndrome, a kidney disease that can be caused by FSGS.
“We just thought we were having some friends over to raise some money and cook barbecue,” says Chris Whitney, one of the Pig Jig founders and now a member of the NephCure International Executive Board. “I’m in awe of this wild idea we had eight years ago and how much everyone has rallied around our cause. The Tampa community has been the wind beneath our sails.”
Hosted at Curtis Hixon Park on the riverfront since 2014, the Pig Jig has raised over $3 million for NephCure and draws thousands in attendance every year. The eighth-annual Pig Jig (happening October 20) promises to be the largest one yet, with 50 individual barbecue teams serving food, six musical acts — including country singer Chris Young — and plenty of fun for the whole family.
“Last year, we had 20 patients’ families at the event for our patient social,” says Whitney. “It’s pretty cool because FSGS is a very rare disease, and a lot of patients will go their whole lives without meeting another FSGS patient.”
Whitney says connecting Nephcure with FSGS patients is critical to test new treatment and cures. The success of the Tampa Pig Jig recently inspired the creation of the first Silicon Valley Pig Jig in San Jose, California, this October.