For the families of first responders, tradition becomes a rather loose term.
Although first responders are paid for the work they do, there is the cost to their families from the inherent risk and demanding schedules. Doing something extra on a holiday for a law enforcement officer, EMT/paramedic, or firefighter can bring a smile to their face and make it seem like a holiday. Whether that is taking a pie to their workplace or a teddy bear to their child — it is always nice to feel appreciated on a day that can otherwise seem mundane or even depressing.
With victims of fires holding a special place in her heart, Nebraska firefighter Carissa Smith began a local ministry targeted to help the victims of fires and disasters, as well as the first responders who work those tough scenes.
“The Firefighter Ministry responds to fires and other natural disasters and provides emergency housing, clothing and food vouchers for those suffering from these disasters. We also help with pastoral counseling, help find permanent housing, [provide] first month’s rent or deposit, etcetera,” said Smith. “We also provide food at large incidents to our first responders and host things like a first responder award [ceremony].”
Smith’s church, First Baptist Church of Scottsbluff, Nebraska, felt called to partner with the Firefighter Ministry after the American Red Cross left their area in 2011.
“We began the Firefighter Ministry in place of them eight years ago. We are happy to offer God on top of everything else we can provide for them! We can also follow the family through to getting their new home,” said Smith.
Although the ministry is faith-based, numerous community organizations and businesses have chipped in to support. “We have a large community backing. We have a core group of six responders who can respond to fires if needed. We have lots of volunteers,” said Smith.
Due to offering so many financial and practical resources for the victims of fires and disasters, and helping feed the first responders on scene, the Firefighter Ministry relies on the help of their community and church congregation.
“We are funded by community donations, fundraisers, and we have received a few grants. We have never taken any government funding. We also do a large fundraiser in the spring. This year we are planning a cornhole tournament,” shared Smith.
After the loss of a state trooper in their area, the Firefighter Ministry worked to minister to the law enforcement officers in their County by distributing a “Behind the Badge” devotional that features 365 law enforcement-focused devotionals. So far, the Firefighter Ministry has helped distribute over 250 of the devotion books to local police departments and the Nebraska State Patrol.
Throughout her career as a firefighter, and through the Firefighter Ministry, Smith has noticed that first responders in her area were not recognized for their valiant efforts. FBC in Scotts Bluff began a first responder Hero Awards ceremony. During the ceremony, awards are presented to an EMT/paramedic, a police officer, a firefighter, and a dispatcher. All recipients are nominated by the public to recognize an act of valor or service above and beyond the call of duty.
Although award ceremonies are a big way to thank emergency service personnel, there are smaller gestures you can make to help a first responder feel unforgotten over the holidays.
“People who bring in food or treats to the station are really appreciated by officers,” said Altoona, Iowa, police officer David Lowe. “I met a family the first year I started working here whose Christmas tradition involved their kiddos hauling in candy, cookies, and drawings into the police department. I look forward to seeing them each year because it means a lot that they think of us during their celebrations and it honestly means a lot that the parents are teaching their kids to appreciate and respect law enforcement.”
“Shop with a Cop” has become not only an impactful charity for needy families during the holidays, it has become a way for officers to have a positive and memorable point of contact with children and their parents. Throughout the year, police and sheriff departments all over the country raise money in order to provide a shopping spree for children from low socio-economic backgrounds.
“A typical Shop with a Cop experience includes a child and an officer getting paired up at a local retailer. The child has a budget of what they can spend and they are supposed to pick gifts for themselves. However, each year I have helped the kids usually want to use some of their allotted money to buy presents for their parents and siblings,” said David. “This is one of my favorite activities of the year, because I have happened to be paired up with kids whose parents I’ve arrested. It is really cool to be able to interact with that kid in a positive way that brings a smile to their face instead of tears. The more interaction people get with cops, the more human we become to them.”
This is an excerpt from “Blue Christmas,” which appears in the December 2019 issue of Word&Way.