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STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) — Volunteers in Mississippi are providing meals for firefighters, police officers and other first responders who work on Christmas.

The community effort in Starkville is called Almost Like Home, the Commercial Dispatch reported.

It started six years ago, when local resident Lisa McReynolds was talking to one of her daughters after a fire in their neighborhood. She explained that firefighters essentially live at the fire station while they are on duty, even on holidays.

“That led to the discussion of what about holidays like Christmas, or their birthdays, because for a little girl your birthday might as well be a holiday,: McReynolds said. “I said, ‘They have to work. When we’re sleeping at night, they’re protecting us. Even when we’re at Christmas events with our families, they’re at work.'”

For the first year, volunteers provided meals to firefighters. Since then, the program has expanded to officers with Starkville Police Department, Mississippi State University Police Department, the Oktibbeha County Sheriff’s Department, E-911 operators and OCH Regional Medical Center responders.

More than 300 people are now helping provide and distribute the meals.

“It’s really crazy how much this town is like, ‘I’m in, tell me what to do,'” McReynolds said.

Starkville Fire Department Battalion Chief David Gaudin has been a firefighter nearly 30 years.

“I don’t think it’s ever great to work on Christmas,” he said. “When you have kids, it’s really hard. What we do around here is sometimes we’ll have guys who are young and don’t have any children yet who will come in and work for the guys with children and that’s wonderful.”

Gaudin said it’s heartwarming to see people in the community think of first responders on Christmas.

“To be on a truck, a pumper, and pretty much just at your station all day where normally we don’t have a lot of calls,” he said. “To be sitting there all day and have somebody bring you food, it means a lot to the guys.”

Julia Marble, a dispatch supervisor for Oktibbeha County Emergency Management, has worked in the field for about 18 years in California and Mississippi.

“We tend to look out after each other,” she added. “Like myself, I have no children, so if there’s someone who has children that’s scheduled to work, and (I am not), I will offer to work for them so they can be at home with their children.”

Marble said it’s nice when people remember E-911 workers through things like the Christmas dinner.

“Just for someone to even call here and ask to speak to the director and say they spoke with one of the dispatchers and they were so nice — we don’t get that very often,” Marble said. “When we do get it, it gives us a feeling of success or accomplishment or something to say someone recognized us.”


Information from: The Commercial Dispatch,