‘Priceless’: Local volunteers quietly serving first responders at Christmas for decade

Published 12:05 pm Wednesday, December 27, 2023

Ten years ago, Vicksburg native Erin Hern heard a friend’s story and it motivated her to make a difference in her hometown. And for a decade since she and a group of friends have been quietly taking care of Vicksburg and Warren County first responders who are working during Christmas.

“My best friend lives in Starkville,” Hern explained. “She has four girls and one of her daughters was choking and they ended up taking her to the fire station down the street. Her daughter made the comment, ‘What would we have done if there hadn’t been anybody at the fire station?’”

Following her friend’s harrowing experience, Hern said she and her daughters began delivering food for first responders working over the Christmas holiday in the Starkville area as a thank you for the sometimes underappreciated work the men and women do for their community.

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“After she did it for a year or two, I was like, ‘Huh. this should be done here.’”

Hern said the project began simply, as an Excel spreadsheet to share information among volunteers.

“It was how many dishes per location and then it was finding a contact person at each of the locations, which that evolved and changed over the years,” she said. “And then finding people that we call runners to go and deliver the food.”

And for ten Christmas seasons since, Hern and her group of friends, family, and other volunteers have prepared, collected, and delivered food to first responders at Vicksburg Fire Department, Vicksburg Police Department, the Warren County Sheriff’s Office, the Warren County E-911 center, and the hospital, in addition to others. 

“I do a SignUpGenius that has all of the things we need: dishes, side dishes, drinks, paper plates – all the things. We have a Facebook group, too. We meet in the medical associates parking lot at 5 p.m. on Christmas day and by 5:25 we are headed out to locations. People literally drive through, drop off their dishes. We have two cars per location. It’s kind of a well-oiled machine. And then those runners go and deliver to each location and by 6, we’re done.”

Hern said, while her group has certainly enjoyed their service over the years, obstacles like the Covid-19 pandemic have made things difficult at times. Those difficulties, she said, only go to show the commitment and selflessness of the people who help her achieve her goal year-in and year-out.

“We still did it in 2020,” she said. “But, we were masked. We asked people to individually wrap things. So, we have quite the group of volunteers; a lot of the same people every year. We get donations. People send some over PayPal. Then, in turn, I’m able to go and spend that locally.”

And after a decade of leading the charge each year, Hern said she is in search of a new face to help keep the service keep going into the future.

“We’re just a group of individuals,” she said. “My oldest daughter will be senior next year, so I’m kind of trying to let somebody else take the reins. And maybe it’s time for somebody with some new ideas and maybe with just more time to devote to it.”

In a post to social media following this year’s deliveries, Hern expressed her appreciation for all the group has helped her do for others over the years the project has been active.

“For the past ten years, I’ve been blessed to be able to spearhead a group of volunteers in the Vicksburg community to help feed first responders who are away from their families on Christmas,” Hern wrote on Facebook. “Without these amazing volunteers, none of it would have been possible. This has been one of the greatest joys of the past ten years and being able to teach my kids about helping others has been priceless. Hopefully, someone will step in and take it over so it will continue. My community rocks! Thank you to all who have helped over the years.”

Hern said anyone interested in becoming involved in next year’s project can reach out to her via email at erinhern@yahoo.com.