First responders enjoy free lunch

Trays of breadsticks, lasagna, spaghetti and salad lined up across a couple of tables in the kitchen of the AMED facility on Seventh Avenue on Monday as local first responders received a free Italian lunch from Olive Garden as a gesture of appreciation for their community work.

Chris Smith, general manager of the Olive Garden located along Pleasant Valley Boulevard, said the restaurant delivered to both the Blair County 911 call center and AMED on Labor Day.

Smith said the restaurant provides a free lunch to first responders annually to demonstrate its ongoing commitment to the community and to share its generosity with the people who are serving their communities on Labor Day.

“People are out in the workforce, keeping everyone safe and taking care of the community,” Smith said of the first responders working the holiday. “We decided to do our share in taking care of those commitments to the people as well.”

“They don’t get a day off either,” Smith said. “They’re out there day-to-day, on Labor Day, still working their shifts and keeping everyone safe and making sure everyone’s well-being is thought of.”

Rob Shirk, an AMED paramedic who worked Monday, said he was very grateful for the free lunch as he held a paper plate of food. “It’s very nice to see recognition from the community. We do appreciate it,” he said.

Numerous AMED staff members said they have already responded to more than 11,000 calls this year.

“Coming from a rural area myself and now living in the city, people don’t realize how needed EMS services is in their population,” said AMED paramedic Natalie Barlick-Reed, commenting on how rural areas often have longer emergency response times due to the current struggles of EMS.

“We love giving back to the community because we care about our people,” Barlick-Reed said.

This is the 17th consecutive year Olive Garden has coordinated the nationwide effort to give back to emergency responders.

More than 850 of the chain restaurants nationwide delivered a “thank you” lunch to various first responder organizations in their communities, according to a press statement.