Volunteers feed first responders

MILLSBORO — For first responders and those in public safety, duty calls around the clock — sometimes on holidays.
Hundreds of police officers, paramedics, firefighters, dispatchers and correctional officers on the job Thanksgiving Day enjoyed a holiday feast, courtesy of Blessings for Badges through a collective community effort.

“Not only are they getting a warm meal, they are getting a warm meal from the community itself. It was complete community engagement,” said Millsboro Police Sgt. Barry Wheatley, vice president of the Blessings for Badges initiative that was launched last year.

“We are just so thankful for what these heroes do for us every day, but especially on holidays when we all are enjoying our families and sometimes forgetting about the people who keep us safe,” said Blessings for Badges president Cindi Susi of Harbeson.

Altogether, 350 hot meals were distributed to the three Delaware State Police troops in Sussex County, town police departments, paid fire service/EMTs, dispatchers (SussCom and the Emergency Operations Center), Sussex EMS paramedics, Sussex Community Corrections Center and the Delaware River Bay Authority.

Of that, 125 meals went to corrections officers and other personnel at Sussex Community Corrections Center where employees typically bring a boxed lunch.

Staff Sgt. David West of SCCC says the Blessings for Badges effort shows prison workers that “people are thinking about them, that the community is out there thinking about them and not just sitting home with their families. You’ve got a lot of families out there that their husbands or wives are working at the prison.”

“Every first responder was grateful, but SCI (Sussex Correctional Institute) was blown away last year,” said Ms. Susi. “They couldn’t get over how we are the only people that have ever thought of them. People send stuff to the prisoners, but nobody ever sends something to them.”

Mountaire Farms donated the chickens and the Good Ole Boy Foundation provided turkeys. Several restaurants pitched in with trays of donated food, including Bethany Blues, Big Fish Restaurant Group, Harpoon Hanna’s, J.D. Shucker’s, Lashers BBQ, Mulligan’s Pointe, Pizza Palace/Georgetown and SoDel Concepts.

Combined, Crooked Hammock and Crossroads Community Church donated 60 pies, and Sysco donated containers, supplies and food.
The Georgetown Fire Company Ladies Auxiliary prepared trays of mashed potatoes and the Millsboro Fire Company Ladies Auxiliary provided the finishing touch of warmth for the meals, which were assembled at the Millsboro Fire Company and delivered to each first responder’s station.

“We purposely chose restaurants, commercial kitchens, where you know that meal is safe to eat. There is a lot of bad stuff happening out there in this world today. That way they know it is safe to eat,” said Ms. Susi. “And we’re very picky about drivers. They are handpicked. That way we know they are responsible enough to get it there, they are going to get the proper boxes at the right locations, and nobody is going to mess with the food.”

Monetary donations were received from Atlantic Limo, Beacon Pediatrics, Delaware State Federal Credit Union, Giant Foods, Harris Teeter, Jiffy Lube, Laurel Fire Company Ladies Auxiliary, Logo Motive, Millsboro Fire Company, the Murray Family and Tidemark Federal Credit Union.

Blessings for Badges was founded in 2018 as an initiative in Sussex County to provide a meal for first responders who are on duty for Thanksgiving Day and are not able to have a meal with their family.

The idea was sparked by Ms. Susi’s family ties to first responders.
“Actually, the thought came on Thanksgiving 2017. We started forming our committee in March 2018,” said Ms. Susi. “My brother is a retired police officer from Wilmington. My dad was a Wilmington police officer. I am one of 11 kids, so there was a lot of meals that dad didn’t get to eat with us.

“My dad has passed away, and I am doing this in his honor. My brother ran a similar program up in the Wilmington for Wilmington Police Department called Meals for Shields.”

That Wilmington program was discontinued, Ms. Susi said. Once she and her husband became “empty nesters” she vowed to somehow feed all first responders on Thanksgiving Day.
In honor of her father, who was known by fellow officers as “The Deacon,” Ms. Susi created The Deacon’s Pantry, which accepts donations of food and canned goods.

This year, The Deacon’s Pantry received a gigantic boost from Giant Foods in Long Neck.
“This year we had a huge Jump start. Giant gave us 105 boxes of canned goods. So, we didn’t need to do the Deacons Pantry this year,” Ms. Susi said.

Through connections at SCI, the roaster chickens were cooked in a massive rotisserie in advance. “We knocked out 48 chickens in about four hours,” Sgt. Wheatley said.
Wednesday night, about 50 to 60 volunteers were on hand.

Tuesday evening, Bikers Without Borders Inc., a motorcycle group that assists communities in various initiatives, volunteered their support.
“They are great guys,” Ms. Susi said. “They set up the hall, opened cans of cranberries and green beans. They ‘picked’ all 48 chickens and all 15 turkeys. They carved all of that for us – the bikers and the ladies auxiliary.”

In addition, each meal included an artistic touch with a Thanksgiving greeting. On Thanksgiving Eve, children from the community gathered at crafts tables to decorate cards. There also was a partnership with a local school where students decorated cards in their spare time.
Sgt. Wheatley emphasized Blessings for Badges is a total community effort.

“Everything from a local restaurant investing their time and effort into giving food, from kids giving their time and effort to decorate the box. You’ve got volunteers giving time and effort to come and either prepare food, serve food or transport food,” Sgt. Wheatley said. “It’s not just one person dropped off a meal. It’s a meal prepared by the community as a whole. I think that means a lot.”

So, it appears Blessings for Badges is firmly entrenched in Sussex County. There are definite plans to expand into Kent County next year, and possibly New Castle County in the future to create a statewide effort.

“When we do go to New Castle, I don’t know if it will be next year. But hopefully they will come on board the following year,” said Ms. Susi.
“We launched successfully last year here. We had a lot of positive feedback last year,” said Sgt. Wheatley. “This year we are kind of fine-tuning a couple tweaks because with anything there is always room to make things a little more efficient. We have some members from our pseudo Kent County committee here … to see how it rolls.”

“If we had to forecast out, I’d like to think that we’re knocking on New Castle County’s door in 2022 or 2023,” said Sgt. Wheatley. He noted New Castle will be “massive rollout” with upward of 1,000 officers.
Kent County on deck
Among the volunteers on hand Thursday morning at the Millsboro fire hall were several members of the Magnolia Volunteer Fire Company Ladies Auxiliary, including president Debra Lawhead.
She also serves as 2nd vice president of the state ladies’ auxiliary association.

“We are forming our committee and looking for a venue up there (Kent County) to actually do it in,” said Ms. Lawhead. “We’re brainstorming, for what businesses to solicit for donations.
“Mountaire has already agreed to donate the chickens for us just like do in Sussex County. Now, it’s just putting it all together. We’re planning for November 2020 for Thanksgiving.”

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