KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Firefighters at Station 20 recently piled their plates high with spaghetti, fettuccine, meatballs, sausage, breadsticks and cheese, all courtesy of a nearby restaurant.
Every year for the last decade and a half, Olive Garden restaurants around the country have delivered meals to first responders on Labor Day. For the last three, an Olive Garden located on Kingston Pike, has delivered pasta to Station 20 in West Hills, less than a mile from the restaurant.
“We almost consider this our station house, because they’re so close,” said John Rich, a service professional at the restaurant who helped deliver this year’s meal. “They’ve done so much and no one like this is ever appreciated enough.”
Not only did they deliver the chain’s signature pasta dishes, the three caterers brought the entire restaurant experience: bowls from the restaurant kitchen, rolled silverware and cheese they grated by hand for each firefighter who asked.
Capt. Jody Smith said the station will occasionally get cookies and cakes from local residents and people who want to express appreciation when firefighters respond to their home. Sometimes, churches or other groups will cook meals for the station on holidays.
This meal, though, was on “a much grander scale,” Smith said.
“It certainly beats our cooking,” he said. “We have 24-hour shifts, and when our local businesses think of us — it’s one thing to think you’re appreciated and another for someone to show they appreciate you.”
More than 800 Olive Garden restaurants around the country deliver meals each Labor Day to first responders at hospitals, police stations and fire stations. More than 10,000 meals have been served since 2002, according to the company.
Smith said he appreciated the restaurant thinking of firefighters and others on a day when most people are enjoying a long weekend with their families.
“The roads were empty on the way into work this morning, but the fire department goes on — 24/7, 365 days a year,” Smith said. “Someone has to be here. Their fire department doesn’t stop.”
Firefighter Robert Cheatham echoed the sentiment.
“I can’t be at home, but I’m here with my second family being fed like kings — we’ll take it,” he said.
Just as the men sat down with their plates shortly before noon, the siren went off. The engine company was dispatched to a medical call. Half the crew of six left their plates of hot pasta — some without having taken a bite taken yet.
“The ladder guys get to stay,” Cheatham said, as took a bite. “And no, we don’t wait on them.”
Information from: Knoxville News Sentinel, http://www.knoxnews.com