This past Saturday, Gate City United Methodist Church held its first ever First Responders Appreciation Day. Attendees were treated to a free barbecue dinner provided by Operation BBQ Relief, and various activities were available for children.
“I think this all started with 9/11, when we saw all the folks that responded up there, and they were covered in dust, and then when you get into today’s world … you come to realize that we need to show our appreciation for our local responders,” said Wayne McClelland, one of the organizers. “They, too, on a daily basis go in harm’s way. So this is a pretty small way to say thank you, if you think about it.”
McClelland had the idea for the event in February. Plans started coming together in March, and from there, the church spent several weeks garnering community support.
Church members distributed letters to various businesses and other churches in the county and in Kingsport, asking for support. Fliers inviting the volunteers, employees and family members were given to all the county’s first responder stations.
Danny Kestner, another organizer, said Operation BBQ Relief was eager to help out. The organization mainly provides barbecue to those who have been affected by disasters, though it also provides food for certain community events. Donations can be made to its efforts at operationbbqrelief.org.
“We’ve had so many civic groups, other churches, businesses that have been involved in this with us, and Kingsport folks, as well as Scott County people,” McClelland said. “For a fairly small church, I think we’ve been pretty ambitious, because we’re trying to honor all the first responders within this county; that means local police, county police, state police, EMTs, fire departments … plus their families.”
At the event
In addition to the free barbecue, event organizers hoped to provide an opportunity for “fun and fellowship.” Inflatables and games were set up for the children, along with cornhole and music.
“A lot of the first responders, they run to the scene of a disaster; they don’t run away. We may run away from it sometimes. They are called to run to it, whether they are paid … or they are volunteer,” Kestner said. “It’s our appreciation to them to show what we think about them, and we don’t do enough for them. They do a lot more for us than we do for them. So we wanted to show that.”
Pastor Gordon McBride said he hopes the church can continue the event in some form in the future.
“We just wanted to do this and show our appreciation,” McBride said, “and we would like to do it, if at all possible, on a yearly basis.”