Community outreach program feeds first responders on Christmas
After learning about a special holiday outreach program started by a friend in Starkville, Erin Hern decided to do something similar in Vicksburg.
For the past six years, Hern and a group of dedicated volunteers have been preparing and delivering food to first responders and emergency medical officials each Christmas. The program is called the Emergency Workers Christmas Appreciation Meal.”
“My best friend in Starkville started it there about seven or eight years ago after one of her daughter’s friend’s houses burned down at Christmas,” Hern said.
The girl had asked her mom what first responders do for Christmas since they have to work and are away from their families, Hern said, and from her question, Hern’s friend the next year began taking food to the men and women who work the holiday shift.
Hern followed her lead and now on Christmas Day, food is delivered to the local police department, the sheriff’s office, the fire department, 911 dispatchers and the emergency room at Merit Health River Region.
“After watching her do it for two years, I saw how easy it was and knew it was something we could do,” Hern said.
And since Hern’s family celebrates Christmas in the morning this left her the afternoon and evening to service both the morning and night shift first responders.
For the first few years, Hern said, she used a spreadsheet to keep up with all the food that was donated, but now uses an online tool that helps business owners and individuals plan events that require contributions from the guests making the organizational process much easier.
Using the online tool also allows people who want to participate to see a list of what is needed while also having access to what others have signed up to bring.
Hern then collects all the food and paper products at her home before Christmas, which allows her to reheat the food before it goes out. This also allows people who are going out of town for the holidays an opportunity to participate.
The perishable food is stored in Hern’s refrigerator, she said, and she has an extra freezer in her garage, where food can be stored.
Also, Hern said, her mom will let her use some of her fridge and freezer space if needed.
“And usually my dining room table is overflowing with boxes of stuff,” she said.
Prior to delivery, Hern divides the food into boxes labeled for each destination.
On the evening of delivery, teams will also set up at the parking lot at Medical Associates on South Frontage Road to accept delivery from those who signed up to help.
Volunteers who deliver will meet at 5 p.m., she said, and by 5:45 they are all done delivering the food.
“It takes less than an hour to do it all,” Hern said. “We are a well-oiled machine now.”
While there is a core group who participates every year, Hern said, there are always new faces each year.
Local businesses have also participated, she said, and there are some monetary donations that are used to fill in any gaps in the menu.
In addition to delivering food, letters from volunteers and church groups are also included.
“This is something simple,” Hern said, of delivering food to the first responders on Christmas. “I just enjoy it because it helps other people know they are appreciated.”
Hern also said the program is an example to her children. “It lets them see people doing something for somebody else,” Hern said.
She also gets calls each year from volunteers thanking Hern for organizing the food delivery and for allowing them to participate.
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