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LIGHTNING PHOTOS: Day of Thanks means three meals, treats for first responders

Volunteers came together at the Henderson County Emergency Services Center Wednesday to honor first responders with free breakfast, lunch and dinner and thank them — as a proclamation said — for racing "at a moment's notice to keep our streets safe, rush into burning buildings, provide life-saving emergency care" as they devoted a "life of service and sacrifice" to their community.

Organized for the first time in the days following the death in the line of duty of Henderson County Sheriff's Deputy Ryan Hendrix in 2020, First Responders Day of Thanks serves three meals at the emergency management headquarters and gives away meals and treats at partnering restaurants and shops.

The Day of Thanks was founded by Delaina and David Lewkowicz and fellow members of the Bridge Church on Upward Road. David Lewkowicz, a sheriff's office chaplain and a founder and minister at Bridge, was among the delegation that informed Hendrix's parents that he had died in the encounter with a car burglar in the early morning hours of Sept. 10, 2020. Soon after, Delaina and David felt moved to do something to show support for first responders.

“And the reason we did that was because our community was hurting really badly and we wanted to do what we could to rally around them,” Delaina said. “The community had an opportunity to step up, our restaurant partners like Hendough and BTM, Mountain Juicery, Sharewell Coffee — they stepped up and they were like, ‘We want to be involved.’”

The cavernous space that usually houses Rescue Squad vehicles and equipment buzzed with collegiality and fgood will, and the smoky aroma of grilled meats on a hot hibachi grill.

“We've already gotten about 120 to-go orders out the door," Delaina said, "and we have the onsite meals and then we do the same thing tonight.” Carrabba’s will cater an Italian buffet for first responders and their families made up of salad, focaccia bread, grilled chicken, penne alfredo, meatballs, penne pomodoro and mashed potatoes — dessert by Blue Ruby Bakery and Chocolate Fetish.

The county has around 900 first responders — EMS, law enforcement, firefighters and rescue squad members. Last year, the Day of Thanks served 650 meals.

“It's just a tremendous opportunity for the community to love on the first responders in the county," Emergency Services Director Jimmy Brissie said. "A lot of folks put a lot of work into it and it feels good to be appreciated. We feel appreciated every day but today is just a really special day for all the first responders. We're thankful for the team that puts it together and looking forward to a great day.”

Delaina thanked the many sponsors who give cash or food.

“You enable us to come together to show the first responders, the people that are actually the backbone of our community, how much we love them and appreciate them every single day,” she said. “Who went and got a HenDough chicken donut today?”

A city of Hendersonville proclamation thanked first responders for "protecting the safety, freedom and liberty of all citizens” and expressed appreciation for "the dangers of the law enforcement and firefighting profession" and the difficulties they encounter "performing the duties and responsibilities."

Hendersonville has 47 sworn police officers and seven dispatchers, 42 firefighters and three life safety officers.

County Commission Chair Rebecca McCall said her family has had recent personal experience with emergency personnel.

“Five members of my family, including myself, have needed the services of EMS," she said. "Some people go through a life of never needing those services and they are truly blessed. But when you need those services, you definitely are glad that they are there, so I do truly appreciate knowing that you're there for us whenever we do need you and you're diligently training to be up on the latest thing that we need that you need to know about.”

She noted that the Rescue Squad was started in 1957 by Glenn Simpson, who was at Lake Summit when a man who  was drowning needed help. A rescue squad came from outside the county to save him.

"He was a member of the VFW and he came back to Hedrick Rhodes Post 5206 and got with his members of the VFW and said, 'We need to form a rescue squad,' and 25 members came together and they formed what is now our rescue squad. … It just shows that one person can make a difference.”

Tommy Laughter, an aide to U.S. Rep. Chuck Edwards, relayed the congressman's support for the day from the congressman.

“The congressman had a pledge when he started his term for the 11th District State North Carolina," he said. "His charge to all of us on the staff was to keep the promise to take care of our first responders. We need to be at their call, at their duty, to give them anything they need to be able to do their job better and show the appreciation for the citizens of this fair district that we have.”

Edwards also read into the Congressional Record a tribute to David Lewkowicz.

“David’s compassionate leadership has touched the lives of countless individuals in our community and this impact is more evident through his founding of the First Responder Day of Thanks," it said. "Three days after Ryan’s death, David spoke in a vigil outside of the department and still remembers the deep feelings of togetherness, love and community that we all had. Following the event, David and his wife Delilah vowed to make sure that first responders in Western North Carolina would never be forgotten and would continue to experience support and love from their community.”

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Sponsors were HenDough Chicken & Donuts, Mountain Juicery, Sharewell Coffee, BTM food truck, Refuge Coffee Co., Chef Blue Hibachi, Van's Chocolates, Blue Ruby Bakery, K. Johnson Family Farm, Carrabba's Italian Grill, the Chocolate Fetish, the Sea Mither, Kenny Barnwell, Southern Homes & Land, Jax's Superhero Squad Auto Detailing, Skip Sawyer, State Farm Agent; Joe and Rose Dwyer, Strong Hand Fitness, 2 Bros T-shirts, Superior Garage Door, Cooper Construction, AdventHealth Hendersonville, Upward Christian Fellowship, First Bank, Diboco Fire Sprinklers Inc. and the Bridge Church.