Story originally written by Maddie Cutler of The Villages Daily Sun
Don Wiley wants to make sure first responders who can’t be home with family this Thanksgiving get the same delicious meal at work. He and dozens of other Villagers are donating Thanksgiving dinner to firefighters working the holiday at all of The Villages Public Safety Department’s fire stations. Wiley, of the Village of Hillsborough, said he started the endeavor several years ago at just a few stations in the community, but he has since expanded the project to all of them. And with the holiday right around the corner, the group is still in need of volunteers to make sure all stations have a meal they won’t forget.“It was always about honoring our first responders,” he said. “These men and women give so much to our community. It was time to give them back something and show our appreciation.”
Wiley said all firefighters on duty at the stations receive a full Thanksgiving meal that is cooked and donated by Villagers. Firefighters not on duty but without family also are welcome to attend the meals at their station.
“And any family of a firefighter is invited to come to the station to eat Thanksgiving with their loved one,” Wiley said.
There are currently five coordinators for stations, but there are three unaccounted for stations that need of volunteers.
Barbara Wilson, of the Village of Osceola Hills, was a nurse for 47 years before retiring four years ago, so she understands the importance of honoring first responders as well as others who have to work during the holidays.
“There were many holidays where I worked,” she said. “I wanted to do something special — something I know will be appreciated.”
Wilson has already spread the word around her neighborhood, asking friends to donate a few dollars or raise their hands to make a dish.
“My husband laughs and says I’ve been raising my hand a lot, regarding helping and volunteering,” Wilson said. “But I just thought this was the honorable thing to do. I’m excited about the enthusiasm of the people who’ve already contacted me.”
Wiley said food items like turkeys as well as side dishes, such as mashed potatoes, stuffing and rolls are needed.
“We need enough to feed everyone on staff at each station,” he said. “It’s the coordinator’s job to contact their fire station and determine how many people to feed and when to bring everything.”
For people who want to help but don’t want to cook or donate food, Wiley said they can donate cash instead.
“We use money to buy things like soft drinks and sports drinks to last a few days,” he said. “We also buy gallon-sized Ziploc bags and leftover containers so the firefighters can have leftovers of the meal.”
Any remaining money is given to Villages Public Safety Department fire chief Edmund Cain for a fund for anyone at the stations who may be going through a hard time.
“No one wants to see someone struggle through the holidays,” Wiley said.
Anyone interested in becoming a station coordinator can contact Wiley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Contact information for station coordinators to sign up for food donations and to volunteer can be found at goldwingnut.com/thanksgiving.