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In Baltimore area, 10,000 first responders to get special thanks

Hundreds of local volunteers will come together at the B&O Railroad Museum to assemble 10,000 Care Pouches for Baltimore’s First Responders. (Kim Hairston / Baltimore Sun video)

Donnie Stowers said she doesn’t take for granted that somebody always answers when she calls 911. On Saturday, she and a few hundred others gathered at the B&O Railroad Museum to let Baltimore’s first responders know they are appreciated.

Stowers joined a volunteer assembly line of sorts that filled 10,000 red pouches with energy bars, nylon cord bracelets, candy, sanitary wipes and other items.

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The pouches “will be delivered to every police officer, every firefighter and every EMT serving the City of Baltimore and the 10 surrounding communities in Baltimore County,” said Kevin Schmiegel, chief executive officer of Operation Gratitude, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit.

The organization collaborated on Saturday’s event with CSX, the Florida-based transportation company that last year launched a program called “Pride in Service” to honor active military personnel, veterans and first responders.

Participants arriving at the museum Saturday were greeted by the sight of a bright red CSX locomotive with “Honoring our 1st responders” painted on the side in oversized white lettering. Another locomotive – painted in camouflage – honors veterans.

The locomotives are in service and “people will be seeing these across our 23-state network,” said Sheriee Bowman, a CSX spokeswoman.

The red pouches will be distributed this week.

“It’s just the most incredible thing that I’ve seen in almost 44 years” in fire service, said Larry Majchrzak, battalion chief with the Baltimore County Fire Department.

“We will have everything delivered to the Towson fire station,” he said. “Our logistics personnel will take them back and package them for each individual station and shift.”

The idea, said Stowers — the volunteer — is for first responders to appreciate “how grateful we are for them – for all hours of the day and night. We press that 911 and think that somebody is going to be at that other end to help us.

“We can take this little time out to pack those packages and say ‘Thank you.’ ”

Stowers arrived for the event with her daughter and two grandchildren from her home in Richmond, Va. Her son-in-law works for CSX.

Some of the volunteers hand-wrote notes to be delivered with the packages.

“Thank you for choosing to be in the military or a first responder,” said one note. “Because of your choice, you have chosen to save lives or make our country a safer one. Every day, you are a hero!”

Richard Worley, chief of patrol for the Baltimore Police Department, said he remembers citizens thanking him for his service in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, in New York City, at the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania.

He said first responders “can never obviously hear it enough. It means a tremendous amount to all of the officers because it gives them basically hope and encouragement for what they do.”

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One of the stated goals of Saturday’s event was to defuse tensions that may exist between police and the communities they serve.

“We need the community probably more than they need us,” Worley said. “We need them to help us solve the issues that we have. If we get the 911 call or the heads-up that something is about to happen, then we can prevent some of those incidents. And we do.”

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