A tangy goodwill gesture: Funeral home serves barbecue to more than 300 public safety officers

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Director: ‘Think about each other’s perspectives … remember the humanity of everybody’

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – They trooped up in every color of public safety uniform — blue, navy, green, white — and with a free barbecue lunch awaiting, why not? 

Monday was the sixth straight year Morris-Baker Funeral Home and Cremation Services funded a free carryout barbecue lunch for the area’s first responders — and the second with Firehouse Restaurant delivering the goods. Organizers were expecting to serve about 350 meals.

“This is our way of saying thank you to all the public safety workers that are out there day in and day out come what may,” Morris-Baker’s Preston McKee said as volunteers from his team collected 19 orders for a Washington County 9-1-1 worker waiting to take the hot food to her co-workers.

Morris-Baker’s Preston McKee helps load 19 meals Monday for workers at Washington County’s 9-1-1 dispatch center.

McKee said his family has a long history of relationships with public safety workers. Some of it comes from relying on police escorts for funerals. Some is more personal.

“My grandfather was an honorary fireman and it’s our opportunity to remember him and to acknowledge their hard work.”

Carson Baker was a child of the Great Depression, McKee said, and never had a first birthday party. His grandfather’s family was too poor. But 69 years later, Johnson City firefighters had a very belated party for Baker.

“It has been an interesting year in public safety and just throughout the period everyone’s been out there doing the work and doing the public service. And it’s something to be grateful for.”

Morris-Baker has a “master barbecue” chef and he handled the food duties when the tradition began in 2016. The past two years, McKee has turned to the Firehouse, who he called “a wonderful partner.”

He said he’s been around police officers his entire life growing up in the funeral business. The annual event has just formalized something that’s been occurring informally for decades.

“It was common for us to work with the police department back in the time of police escorts and we would visit with them on a regular basis and have them to our office for food, and they’ve just been friends over the years,” he said.

McKee said what he’d most like people to glean from the good feelings of Monday’s effort can apply to more than just citizens and public safety workers.

“It’s always important for us to think about each other’s perspectives and to understand that we all have our challenges in what we do and how we live and to remember to just remember the humanity of everybody. These are tense times for everyone and just remembering that we’re all human beings and to be good to each other.”

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