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'Almost like home': Volunteers to prep Christmas dinners for first responders

 

Officers with Starkville Police Department heap their plates with Christmas dinner on Dec. 25, 2013. The food was prepared by local volunteers who put together Almost Like Home, an annual volunteer effort to feed first responders who work on Christmas.

Officers with Starkville Police Department heap their plates with Christmas dinner on Dec. 25, 2013. The food was prepared by local volunteers who put together Almost Like Home, an annual volunteer effort to feed first responders who work on Christmas. Photo by: Courtesy photo

 

Alex Holloway

 

 

This year, volunteers in Starkville will take some time out of Christmases to give back to local first responders. 

 

It started six years ago when Lisa McReynolds was talking to one of her daughters after a fire in their neighborhood, and explaining firefighters basically live at the firehouse while they're on duty. 

 

"That led to the discussion of what about holidays like Christmas, or their birthdays, because for a little girl your birthday might as well be a holiday," McReynolds said. "I said they have to work. When we're sleeping at night, they're protecting us. Even when we're at Christmas events with our families, they're at work." 

 

That began Almost Like Home, McReynolds' now annual volunteer effort to feed first responders on Christmas Day. That first year focused just on firefighters. In the years since, McReynolds said, it's grown to include other first responders such as officers with Starkville Police Department, Mississippi State University Police Department, the Oktibbeha County Sheriff's Department, E-911 operators and OCH Regional Medical Center responders. 

 

Since the start six years ago, a Facebook group McReynolds uses to organize volunteer efforts has grown from about 50 members to more than 300. 

 

"It's really crazy how much this town is like 'I'm in, tell me what to do,'" she said. 

 

Volunteers will gather at the Club 24 parking lot at about 3:45 p.m. Christmas day. Different runners will have signs for the agencies they're taking food, drinks, plates and other supplies to, and McReynolds said everyone will disperse at about 4 p.m. 

 

If it's raining on Christmas, volunteers will instead gather at the covered parking lot by the Courtyard Marriott. 

 

 

 

Christmas at work 

 

Starkville Fire Department Battalion Chief David Gaudin has nearly 30 years of experience as a firefighter. 

 

"I don't think it's ever great to work on Christmas," he said. "When you have kids, it's really hard. What we do around here is sometimes we'll have guys who are young and don't have any children yet who will come in and work for the guys with children and that's wonderful." 

 

Gaudin said it's heartwarming to see people in the community think of first responders on Christmas. Even though the holiday is normally a quiet one, it still means a lot to have volunteers bring food. 

 

"To be on a truck, a pumper, and pretty much just at your station all day where normally we don't have a lot of calls," he said. "To be sitting there all day and have somebody bring you food, it means a lot to the guys." 

 

Julia Marble, a dispatch supervisor for Oktibbeha County Emergency Management, has worked in the field for about 18 years. 

 

"I've pretty much worked every holiday since I've been here," she said. "I can say this for both agencies I've worked for -- this one and the one I worked for before in California -- there's a family-oriented feeling about this job. We have to be close. We have to be a family because we spend too much time together not to be. 

 

"We tend to look out after each other," she added. "Like myself, I have no children, so if there's someone who has children that's scheduled to work, and (I am not), I will offer to work for them so they can be at home with their children." 

 

Marble said it's nice when people remember E-911 workers through things like the Christmas dinner. 

 

"It does make us feel good," she said. "Just for someone to even call here and ask to speak to the director and say they spoke with one of the dispatchers and they were so nice--we don't get that very often. When we do get it, it gives us a feeling of success or accomplishment or something to say someone recognized us."

 

 

 

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