GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - They risk their lives to protect our neighborhoods, but many people rarely get the chance to personally say thank you. On Friday, more than 100 people showed up to a Gulfport fire house to show their appreciation for all the police and firefighters do.
The event featured food, families and new friendships. It wasn't the aroma of fried catfish that lured people to fire station 10 on Dedeaux Road during lunch.
"The first responders do great jobs, and they put their life on the line to help other families, so we have to give them credit for what they do to help the community," said Joyce Davis, of Saucier.
Davis and her husband, Joe, came all the way from Saucier to support the Get to Know Your First Responders Open House. Lorraine Santo organized the event.
"I grew up next to a fire station. We had a fire at our house, and they saved our life. You don't forget that. They're more than fighting fires. They are people who take care of us and the community," said Santo.
Local businesses donated most of the food.
"It makes us feel good. The public really appreciates us. They let us know from time to time, and it's a good feeling to know you're doing a job that people appreciate," said Gulfport firefighter Gary Joffrion.
He took on the role of head chef and fried enough catfish to feed 200 people.
"We cook around the fire house, and we get used to it. I enjoy doing it," said Joffrion. "We use Zatarains that we buy, and we use a little bit of extra spices that go in there."
Young and old showed up to fill their plates with fish, french fries, coleslaw and baked beans.
"The food's absolutely delicious, as you can see," said Long Beach resident David Sweeting as he pointed to an empty plate.
"It feels good, because I don't have to cook when I get home," said Davis.
Many people who came also brought in canned goods and other non-perishable food items to donate to two Gulfport food pantries. They helped feed the needy while building new bonds with the men and women who help keep their neighborhoods safe.
"It's wonderful. It's nice that they take the time out to cook, and such a wonderful feeling to know that we have city workers that don't mind giving back to the community," said Davis.
At the end of the open house, the names of all the Gulfport police and firefighters were entered into a drawing for two hotel vacation packages.