When Michele Anderson and a dedicated group of volunteers banded together to host a first responder appreciation BBQ event four years ago, they thought it would be a one-off – a chance to say thank you to the men and women who protect the community that they love.
But each year since the event has grown and blossomed into something that residents look forward to being a part of.
So when Anderson’s crew was honored last week by the Lathrop Manteca Fire District’s Board of Directors at its monthly meeting for their efforts, the recognition was a little bit surreal.
“It’s hard to believe that something that was thrown together in less than two weeks four years ago has grown into such a huge event,” Anderson said. “We thought it was going to be a one-and-done. The community is a huge supporter – especially Simplot and Starbucks.
“River Islands has been a big supporter as well, but we really get a lot of support from everyone.”
And according to Anderson, the men and women who are honored appreciate the event so much that they go out of their way to ask her when it’s going to be the following year, and show their gratitude by helping out with other events that Anderson and other volunteers put together that benefits the community.
“Every time I see a firefighter or police officer in public they ask if we have a date for 2020 yet,” Anderson said. “We really have formed a bond with our first responders in the fact that they help us with our other major event, ‘Operation Senior Christmas.’”
While the event, which includes goodie bags for every first responder who attends, is something that the first responders look forward to, Lathrop Manteca Fire Chief Gene Neely believes that the real honor comes not just from what they receive – gifts of gratitude, a BBQ dinner – but what they get to do at the event.
It has become, in Neely’s eyes, a chance to build the kind of community that makes Lathrop a great place to live.
“It’s very rewarding, and what I mean by that is that it’s one thing for someone to recognize you for the service you provide, and it’s another when they’re rewarded by a community that wants to honor them by coming out and spending time with them – having a hot dog and having a conversation and really interacting,” Neely said. “This is a community city – a family city – and were acting as members of the community and it’s much more rewarding for us to gather with the people and work with them and get to know them – that makes it very rewarding.”
To contact reporter Jason Campbell email email@example.com or call 209.249.3544.