Pine Bluff Fire and Emergency Services Department trucks rolled into the parking lot of Summit Baptist Church on Ridgway Road one by one Wednesday. Firefighters and other first responders were thanked for their service with a home-cooked meal there.

“It’s nice that the community feels as if we are valued enough to even be honored in the first place,” said Pine Bluff Fire and Emergency Services Department Lt. Mozell Gipson, adding that he was honored to be a firefighter. “We always value the citizens of Pine Bluff, the people who pay our salary. But, it’s a whole different feeling for them to express the fact that they appreciate us, too.”

The event was the first of its kind at the church, according to Pastor Todd Anderson, who said he hopes to make the lunch an annual event as a way to show support and gratitude for the work first responders do in the community.

“In appreciation of our first responders, we just wanted to find a way to show our first responders how much we appreciate them,” Anderson said. “A lot of times they are overlooked, and those who respond first put their lives on the line … we just wanted to show some appreciation.”

Arkansas State Police Lt. Randall Dias sat down with his colleagues Cpl. Dustin Thomason and Trooper Brandon Porter in the church’s dining hall as they feasted on the various dishes and desserts.

“We appreciate them thinking of all first responders and being appreciative of the job that law enforcement and fire and EMS do for the community,” Dias said. “Churches play a big role in the community as well, and so it’s a good partnership. So, we’re honored that they thought of us today.”

Various Summit Baptist Church members cooked casseroles and baked decadent desserts for the first responders. The event was a team effort orchestrated by Anderson and his congregation.

“We all kind of signed up for what we wanted to do,” said church member Kayla Lake, who was supposed to bring sweet tea but instead used her time to volunteer. “Whenever the idea was brought up by the pastor, we all took it on and thought it was an excellent idea — we got really excited about it. I know some of these ladies brought two or three casseroles … it’s been a lot of fun to put together.”

The event, which started at 11 a.m., lasted until 1 p.m.

“Well, this is something that doesn’t happen too often,” said Pine Bluff Fire and Emergency Services Department engineer Johnnie Brown. “As firefighters, we don’t get a lot of money, and we’re overworked and underpaid. So, for the church to feel the way they do about helping us with dinner, we’re grateful, and it keeps us from going to fast-food places.”