When Michelle Anderson set out to come up with an impromptu way to thank local law enforcement and first responders for their dedication and their bravery last year, the turnout was far greater than even she anticipated.
So many people came out to say thanks you to the men and women who put on a uniform to protect the community that she and the few that helped her put everything together decided then and there that it needed to be an annual event.
And while Anderson worried about whether the community would respond the first time the event was conducted, all of that was put to rest Wednesday night when hundreds of people descended up Valverde Park to honor local police officers, firefighters and emergency medical services personnel for their hard work in keep the nearly 20,000 residents of Lathrop safe.
“We had such a great turnout last year and we knew it was something that we wanted to do every year, but you worry about whether people will come back out for something and whether it was just a one-time thing,” Anderson said Wednesday from a booth that handed out gifts to first responders who showed up. “But we had another amazing turnout of people who want to thank our first responders for the job that they do for us, and it’s great to see the community coming out to support and effort like this.”
And the effort does not go unnoticed by the people who put on a uniform and go work every day to maintain the safety of Lathrop and its residents.
Lathrop Police Services Chief James Hood said that while tensions between the community and law enforcement were high several years ago, efforts by both the department and people like Anderson have helped bridge the gap between law enforcement and those they serve and the open lines of communication only improves things for everybody.
“This is a great job of bringing the community and the officers together and this lets all of us know that we’re appreciated,” Hood said. “At the end of the day law enforcement isn’t who we are – it’s what we do – and events like this allow the public to see us as people and not just police officers.
“Having that connection with the community and the people we serve is very beneficial, and I know that I feel appreciated at an event like this and I know that many of my staff feel the same way when they come to work each day.”
While the inaugural event was thrown together very quickly last year, Anderson said that this year’s event – which included live music, gifts, and a meal for all first responders who attended in addition to community booths – took nearly a year to put together and required the support of local sponsors who made the undertaking possible including the Swiss American Sausage Company, River Islands, USA Motors and the Lathrop Lions Club.
Knowing that the community will respond the way it does, Anderson said organizers will take a few months off for the holidays and then come back in January to make sure that everything is in place to maintain what she hopes will become a tradition.
Those who receive the thanks hope it does as well.
“We need the support of our community to fulfill our mission,” Lathrop Manteca Fire District Chief Gene Neely said. “It’s amazing to have people who do something like this to thank us and let us know that they’re appreciative of what we do – that’s a very important part of this.”
To contact reporter Jason Campbell email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 209.249.3544.