What began 17 years ago as a covered dish picnic for fire and police employees has morphed into a community event complete with entertainment, long food lines and political speeches.
Memorial Park Funeral Home held its annual public safety appreciation luncheon Monday, serving up an estimated 6,000 plates of barbecue pork, hamburgers and hot dogs.
“It’s our way of giving back,” said Billy Hendrix, spokesman for the funeral home. “Our officers and firefighters give so much more and get paid so little. This is just a small token.
“We’ve been really blessed to do what we do for the community.”
Visitors filled their plates, then dined at tables underneath covered tents set up near the stage or more private picnic areas around the property off Memorial Park Drive and Old Flowery Branch Road.
Karrie Mixon of Flowery Branch was enjoying her first time at the event, after hearing about it from Hendrix and his wife, Amy.
“I’m pretty impressed by the crowd and the generosity,” she said.
For Jason Gee, who has grandparents buried at Memorial Park Cemetery, the picnic has become a family tradition.
“It’s amazing. A lot of time and money was spent on this, especially with the economy and the way it is,” he said, a slice of watermelon in hand. “I wondered if it would still go on (this year).”
The luncheon cost the funeral home about $25,000, Hendrix said.
“This is one event that we all really look forward to,” he said.
Hall County Fire Chief David Kimbrell and Sheriff Steve Cronic expressed their thanks to Memorial Park for putting on the event and the crowd for attending.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity for public safety ... to intermingle with the folks that we serve,” Cronic said. “We’re in a community where service means something and support is everything.”
He also saluted veterans as part of his speech.
“Everything that we have, everything that we enjoy and everything that we will have we owe to the work of our men and women in the military,” Cronic said.
Weather cooperated with Memorial Park, as the event took place under blue skies and in warm temperatures.
Next year, it could take place indoors.
“By this time next year, we’ll hopefully have a community center here,” Hendrix said. “... We can hold gospel singings and different events. It will be pretty awesome.
“If we get the planning and zoning (hurdles cleared), we’ll be in good shape.”