For some professions, the call of duty does not afford the luxury of being home for holidays.
Thursday, Blessings for Badges, a nonprofit founded in 2018 in Sussex County that last year expanded into Kent County, fulfilled its mission to ensure every first responder got a hot meal on Thanksgiving Day.
Hundreds of meals – 446 in Kent and about 400 in Sussex – were delivered Thursday, culminating nearly a year-long initiative that enlists the support of the Blessings for Badges network, fire company ladies’ auxiliaries, restaurants, businesses, volunteers and community supporters.
“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, Blessings for Badges founder and president.
Meal recipients included police officers, paramedics, firefighters, dispatchers and correctional officers unable enjoy a meal at home with their families.
The Bunting family has experienced that holiday routine. Stephanie Bunting’s husband, John, works at Violation and Probation in Georgetown.
“They always have to work holidays,” said Ms. Bunting, among the volunteers on hand Thursday at Millsboro Fire Station 83, the preparation/pickup hub in Sussex County. “So, it’s pretty tough. Usually, we have to work our schedules around when they work because they don’t get off. We usually have to have it early if he works late … or have it late. It is very much appreciated. I remember last year when he got one, he sent me a picture and told me how much he appreciated it. And with a little note from the kids — that was really cool, too.”
Correction officers typically brown bag their lunch every day, said Ms. Susi, adding “This is the only hot meal they get at work all year.”
Meals in Sussex County included chicken, turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing, macaroni and cheese, green beans, pie and muffins. Dinners were assembled, packaged and boxed by volunteers. Pie cartons were topped with thank-you cards created by Lord Baltimore Elementary students.
Meals packaged for delivery in Kent County were iced with thank-you cards by Girl Scout Troop 267 and Calvary Baptist Church.
In Sussex County, several restaurants pitched in with trays of food including J.D. Shuckers, SoDel Concepts, Big Fish Grill, Bethany Blues, Crab Barn, Crooked Hammock, Pizza Palace, Harpoon Hanna’s, Grandpa Mac, Giant Foods and Fork and Flask.
Mountaire Farms donated chicken, Blessings for Badges provided turkeys and Sysco provided paper products.
Ladies’ auxiliaries from Frankford, Ellendale, Georgetown, Seaford and Millsboro provided mashed potatoes, mac and cheese and stuffing.
The Kent County hub on Thanksgiving morning was the Leipsic Fire Company. Kent County’s effort was spearheaded by Deb Lawhead, president of Magnolia Volunteer Fire Company Ladies Auxiliary who co-chairs Kent’s effort with Sandy Robinson of Citizens Hose Company Auxiliary.
Harrington Raceway and Casino donated turkeys, while Mission BBQ, Main Street Market and Smyrna Diner were among those that donated food.
Kent’s effort included contributions from the Camden-Wyoming, Cheswold, Citizens Hose, Clayton, Farmington, Felton, Harrington, Hartly, Leipsic, Little Creek, Magnolia, MaryDel and Townsend fire company auxiliaries.
“And we received monetary donations as well,” said Ms. Lawhead.
Kent County’s effort spanned from the Middletown area south to Houston.
“We have nine zones. We have drivers for each of those zones, which are all vetted drivers. The majority are either fire service-related or police-related,” said Ms. Lawhead.
Some 252 meals were delivered to the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna. For security purposes, correction staff personally picked up those meals.
Barry Wheatley, Blessings for Badges vice president who retired earlier this year after 20 years with the Millsboro Police Department, saluted the community unity.
“It is truly humbling to sit back and look at how our stakeholders throughout the community have come together,” said Mr. Wheatley, who is now the constable at Lord Baltimore Elementary in Ocean View.
“Whether it is school children drawing the thank-you notes for the boxes, local restaurants donating food, local ladies’ auxiliaries preparing food and getting things together, I am just honored to be a part of it. This has grown. And we hope it continues to grow.”
“In uncertain times, seeing people band together to help anybody is always a reassuring thing,” said Mr. Wheatley. “There is a multitude of professions that work 24/7 that can’t be home with their families. So, this was something that we started four years ago. 2018 was our first to get things going and give back to the community.”
Ms. Susi founded Blessings for Badges in memory of her father, the late Francis Williams Jr.
“The genesis of it is my father was a retired police officer, as is my brother (Robert Williams),” said Ms. Susi. “I am one of 11 kids and there were many Thanksgivings that my dad didn’t get to eat Thanksgiving meal with us. My dad has passed away, so I do it in his honor.”
Planning for Thanksgiving Day begins months in advance to address any kinks.
“We’ll have our meeting in January to go over what went wrong; what do we need to improve. Then we’ll meet again in like the end of March or April. As it gets closer to Thanksgiving, we meet like every other week,” said Ms. Susi. “We didn’t have any in-person meetings this year. It was all Zoom. And now we have created a committee Facebook page and it has worked out beautifully.”
Blessings for Badges does hear from thankful recipients.
“We have people that reach out to us,” said Ms. Susi. “Some of them send personal thank-you notes to our P.O. box. Some of them send us an email. Some of them reach out on our Facebook page and send us a private message.”
Leftovers do not go to waste. In Sussex County, it is taken to the ACE Peer Center and the Shepherds Office in Georgetown.
“And they are ecstatic to have what we have leftover,” said Ms. Susi. “And we do feed our help. Like (Wednesday) night it was pizza. (Thursday) they will all get a hot meal.”
Blessings for Badges welcomes financial donations to help offset costs associated with this project. Checks can be made payable to Blessings for Badges and mailed to PO Box 1041, Millsboro, DE 19966.
For more information or how to volunteer, contact BlessingsForBadges@gmail.com.