Blessings for Badges feeds Thanksgiving dinner to first responders

Young Blessings for Badges volunteers Darien Taylor and Allie Wheatley places containers with pie attached with “Thank you” notes made by East Millsboro Elementary students on the cart. (Delaware State News/Glenn Rolfe)

MILLSBORO – Not everyone has the luxury of being home with loved ones for those special holidays.

For those in public safety and related fields, duty often means missing out on family gatherings.

First responders working Thanksgiving Day Downstate were not forgotten this year, thanks to Blessings for Badge, a volunteer initiative launched in Sussex County in 2018 that in 2020 expanded into Kent County.

Approximately 377 meals were made in Sussex County, while an estimated 500 meals were prepared in Kent County. Meals, featuring turkey, chicken and the fixings, were delivered on Thanksgiving.

“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 Harbeson resident Cindi Susi, president of Blessings for Badges.

Recipients included local and state law enforcement, fire service and paid ambulance service personnel, paramedics, dispatchers and correctional officers.

The effort, supported by commercially prepared food donations and monetary contributions, enlisted a small army of volunteers.

“I’ve been here since the inception and I like doing it,” said Sharon Taylor, a Millsboro Fire Company Ladies Auxiliary member who serves as fire company liaison for Blessing for Badges. “It is interesting, and I know the guys and gals are being fed well; those who won’t be home for dinner with their family. We’re trying to help them out and give them a hot meal.”

In Sussex County, meals were prepared and assembled at Millsboro Fire Company and delivered Thursday to each first responder’s station.

Millsboro Fire Company Ladies Auxiliary member Mary Curtis slices turkey for the Blessings for Badges Thanksgiving Day meal distribution.

Several restaurants pitched in with trays of donated food, including J.D. Shucker’s, SoDel Concepts, Big Fish Grill, Pizza Palace and Harpoon Hanna’s. Mountaire Farms donated eight cases of whole chickens and Blessings for Badges provided several turkeys.

The Georgetown Fire Company Ladies Auxiliary prepared trays of mashed potatoes and the Millsboro Fire Company Ladies Auxiliary cooked all the turkeys, chickens and prepared the meals.

Sysco also donated supplies. Crossroads Community Church and Sysco donated pies.

Included with every meal delivery in Sussex County was a “Thank You” card, handmade by students at East Millsboro Elementary School.

To the north, a group of volunteers stepped up to prepare and deliver meals in Kent County. Deb Lawhead, Magnolia Volunteer Fire Company Auxiliary president, served as the Kent County co-chair woman along with Sandy Robinson.

Leipsic Fire Company served as the operations base in Kent County.

Harrington Raceway and Casino provided the turkey and rolls and various ladies auxiliaries supplied mashed potatoes, stuffing and macaroni and cheese. Mission BBQ provided cornbread, while Girl Scout Troop 267 and Calvary Baptist Church created “Thank You” cards, reminding each honoree how appreciated they are.

“Food donations do not come from the general public. They come from commercial kitchens from restaurants. That way it is done in a commercial kitchen that has been inspected by the health department,” Ms. Susi said.

Blessings for Badges came about through Ms. Susi’s family ties to first responders. Her late father was a Wilmington police officer, who missed many Thanksgiving meals due to work. As the father of 11 children, his fellow officers called him The Deacon, and Ms. Susi created The Deacon’s Pantry in his honor.

“The idea came about at Thanksgiving 2017,” said Ms. Susi. “Our first meeting was February 2018 at Smyrna Diner.”

This year, the specter of COVID-19 added another level of food safety protocol.

Behind the Blessings for Badges banner, Millsboro Fire Company Ladies Auxiliary member Sharon Taylor carves roasted turkey in the kitchen at the fire hall the night before Thanksgiving.

“All of our board of directors took the COVID food safety course,” said Ms. Susi.

Blessing for Badges’ liaisons encompass all entities, covering state police, municipal police, paramedics, fire company and corrections officers.

Cathy Bassett, director of communications/community relations at Mountaire Farms, is Blessings for Badges’ secretary and public relations link.

Among the volunteers on hand at the Millsboro Fire Hall for pre-delivery preparation were several members of Bikers Without Borders Foundation, based in Bishopville, Maryland.

“It’s part of our mission,” said Bikers Without Borders spokesman Joe Baumann. “Within the area we help a lot of the first responders – police, fire and a lot of children’s activities … Special Olympics. So, part of our mission is to help in any way possible using our platform to be able to help situations such as this. This has been a good partnership. We started this last year and have kept in contact and have a good relationship.”

EMS paramedic Heather Wilson, left, and Cathy Bassett, Director of Communications/Community Relations at Mountaire Farms, dish out cranberry sauce during the Blessings for Badges preparation work bee Wednesday evening at the Millsboro Fire Hall.

Mr. Baumann and his wife were part of Thursday’s delivery effort. They dropped off hot meals to Selbyville police and fire personnel, as well as several other locations in southeastern Sussex County.

“It is always beneficial to have something for people, no matter what, even if it gets reheated,” Mr. Baumann said. “Because some of these places — especially right now being closed for COVID — this is an even better opportunity.”

Blessings for Badges welcomes financial donations to help offset costs associated with the project. Checks can be made payable to Blessings for Badges and mailed to PO Box 1041, Millsboro, DE 19966.

For more information or to learn how to volunteer, contact BlessingsForBadges@gmail.com.