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Unicoi County citizens honor those who keep them safe

Top photo, Roger Johnson celebrates his third place finish with his father during the inaugural First Responders Appreciation Day event’s costume contest. Above, Ryan Elliot receives his first place ribbon from event cofounder John Banner. (Erwin Record Staff Photos by RIchard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

Downtown Erwin was filled with people who came out to honor the county’s first responders on Saturday, Aug. 1, with a block party at The Gathering Place park.

According to Laura Elliott, the idea for this event, which has featured food, live music, giveaways for first responders and numerous contests for the youth of the county, formed after watching the riots, protests, and defunding the police movements that have taken place in other cities and states.

“After talking with Randy Higgins and John Banner Sr., we decided to host an appreciation event for our local responders to show them how much we appreciate and support all that they do for our community,” Elliott said. “Three weeks ago to the day, we put the idea out on our local Facebook groups, The Erwin Buzz and The Erwin Watchhawg, and the responses came pouring in. We received a tremendous amount of positive feedback. That is when our idea became a plan and was put into motion. Many citizens reached out to donate food, money, and to volunteer their time for the event. We began contacting local businesses for their support and they graciously responded with gifts and donations.

“You could tell the community was on board and eager to give back to all those who serve our community. We believe it is very important to let our first responders know that they have our support while they are on the front line risking their lives at any given time to keep us alive and safe. We wanted a way to show them we care and we thank them for their sacrifices and devoting their time to keeping our community a safe and peaceful place to live.”

Attendees of the event featured representatives from area police forces, fire departments and EMTs.

“This is a pretty cool thing they are doing for us,” Town of Erwin Police Chief Regan Tilson told The Erwin Record.

Tilson was joined by Unicoi Police Chief Andy Slagle, who judged the children’s heroes costume contest, and Unicoi County Sheriff Mike Hensley, who performed with his band, The Spivey Mountain Boys.

Despite recent storms, the event had perfect weather for the community to come out to support their first responders while social distancing.

“This is such a great event and what a beautiful day for it,” Tennessee State Senator and Congressional hopeful Rusty Crowe said. “This is a great way to honor our first responders; this group did an excellent job.”

According to Elliott, once word got out, the whole community reached out to help.

“Sponsorship for the event came from all directions,” Elliott said. “Once the cause was known, support came pouring in. There was a lot of heart put into this event and I believe it showed today.”

This may be the start of many first responder events in the future.

“We have been told by a few citizens we should make this an annual event and I couldn’t agree more,” Elliott said. “Within three weeks we were able to fully plan and host this appreciation dinner. All the credit goes to the citizens who donated or volunteered, businesses, and organizations for such a successful event. It was because of them this event happened and we are thankful for each and every one. They truly went above and beyond to make sure it was a great evening. If I could acknowledge those involved, I would have to list every one who had a hand in it. There are many who took part and we couldn’t have pulled it off without all of them.”

According to Elliott, the list includes businesses such as: A.O. Smith, Auto Zone, Baker’s Shoe Repair & Saddle Shoe, Bank of Tennessee, Bradshaw’s Gym, Brian Poston with State Farm, Cash Express, Clinchfield Federal Credit Union, CoverYourSix Customs, CVS, Erwin Express, Erwin Moose Lodge, Erwin Outdoor Supply, Farm Bureau, FL Schmidt Corporation, Food City, Food Lion, Garland Tires, Harris Excavation & Construction, Hamilton Meats, KFC, Kinsley’s Cupcakes, KNK Automotive, Las Guacamayas Mexican Restaurant, Liberty Hardware, Mountain Commerce Bank, Nuclear Fuel Services, O’Reilly Auto Parts, Priceless Foods, Rocky’s Pizza, Serving Up Sweets Organization, Sisters, Shears Family Hair Salon, Steel Rails Coffee House, The Garden Basket, The Trophy Shop of Johnson City, Triple J Automotive, Unicoi County Insurance, Unicoi County Family YMCA, Unicoi County Library, What’s the Scoop? Ice Cream of Erwin and Whisk Bakery.

Individuals who volunteered and contributed, according to Elliott, include: co-founders John Banner Sr., Elliott and Randy Higgins, along with Kim Bagby, Graham Bailey, John Banner Jr, Margaret Banner, Linda Bishop, Lynn, Pamela, & Joseph Bradshaw, Leah Brotherton, Linda Carrillo & Family, Kiersta Copp, April Crumley, Charles Day, Ryan & Zachary Elliott, Unicoi County Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely, Marsha Forss, Tracy Foster, Scott Fowler, Jenna Galloway, Dawson Gambrell, Madge Hall, Bea Harris, Sandra Harris, The Hoyle Family, Norma Hughes, Garland James, Joyce McMichen, Tony McMillian (manager of Walmart,) members of Erwin Moose Lodge, J.P. Metcalf, Hollie Michelson, Naomi Myrick, Stacy Payne and friend Amanda, Matthew Perry, Luanne Powers, Bobby Ramsay, Edgar Rice, Leah Rice, Vincent Sicca, the Spivey Mountain Boys, Sara Tallman and family, Debbie Tittle, Keith and Linda Tolley, J.J. Williams, Lindsay Williams and Congressional hopeful Nichole Williams.

According to Elliott there were several other individuals and organizations to thank for making the event a success.

“I would like to thank the officials of the Town of Erwin and Unicoi County for allowing us to hold this special event,” Elliott said.

For future updates of any other community organized events, please follow The Erwin Buzz and The Erwin Watchhawg on Facebook.