Area first responders and their families enjoyed free chicken dinners Sunday night.
The fried chicken — served with mashed potatoes and gravy, corn, green beans, sweet rolls, desserts and soft drinks — hit the spot, participants said. It was a chance to get a hearty Sunday dinner without dirtying up the kitchen.
Operation Bugle Boy — a nonprofit that recognizes veterans, soldiers and first responders — and American Legion Post 5 teamed up to present the sixth annual Patriot Sunday. The team distributed 500 tickets, allowing first responders and their families to receive a meal with little hassle. They were grateful, they said for support from the community.
Eager volunteers — students from local schools, members of Operation Bugle Boy, members of the American Legion Auxiliary and others — worked shoulder-to-shoulder to put on the event, said Chris Jarboe, president of Operation Bugle Boy.
Three U.S. Naval Sea cadets greeted first responders and their families as they arrived for dinner. Petty Officer Third Class Garrett Holtgrewe, 14, of Russellville, held the door for people arriving and departing. Seaman recruits Chase Neiberding, 13, who attends School of the Osage, and Mason Carel, 13, of Jefferson City, helped arrivals fill out forms for door prizes.
Garrett said he simply wanted to perform community service this weekend.
Chase said it was the best thing he could do with his time this weekend.
Other teenage volunteers (all from Russellville) assisted with beverages and desserts — Audrey Klatt, 15, Ella Volkart, 15, Camie Grayson, 16, and Jesse Daniel, 16.
"We've been attending the Operation Bugle Boy meetings lately," Camie said. "We got the schedules so we'd know when this was. We'll be working again in November."
The event, Jarboe said, received community support, and all 500 tickets were sponsored. David Beamer and his wife have made a tradition of sponsoring a number of tickets. They sponsored 20 this year — one for each year since their son, Todd Beamer, died fighting terrorists who hijacked United Flight 93.
"This support is a reflection of the admiration and respect so many of us have for the men and women who help keep us safe and make it possible to go about our daily lives, often at the risk of their own," Jarboe wrote in a letter to first responders.
Jefferson City responded for the annual event, donating more than $30,000 in door prizes and products for gift bags. Prizes included pies, plants, ceramic dishes, a "BBQ Lover's" gift basket, patriot pillows, car cleaning supplies, gift certificates for services, and dozens of gift cards for free meals and free car washes.
Larger prize drawings occurred for carpet cleaning, decorative stone tiles and overnight stays at local hotels.
Gift bags, which each first responder received, each contained letters of appreciation from Blair Oaks School District students. Alongside the letters, first responders got multiple coupons for free food from dozens of food outlets, flashlights from Lowe's and Operation Bugle Boy, gift cards from Carrie's Hallmark Shop, screw drivers, tire gauges, pizza cutters, bottle openers, coasters and much more.
Nichols Career Center students made 300 first responder ornaments — 100 each with designs intended for police, fire or emergency medical services personnel.
And John Schulte, of Schulte's Fresh Foods, created and donated "Hero's Dozen" cookie boxes — each box containing 14 cookies.
First responders who couldn't make it to the event Sunday night got some help from colleagues.
Mike Menning, of the Lincoln University Police Department, stopped in for three chicken dinners for a crew working until midnight.
"I do this every year. It's awesome," Menning said. "It's really nice to see the appreciation we get as first responders."