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Public servants treated to dinner on Labor Day

Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Volunteer Peggy Cody of the Buford Senior Center serves up dessert to firefighter Justin Moody while he eats a meal provided by the Olive Garden at the Gwinnett County Fire Station 24 in Buford on Monday. As a token of their appreciation the Olive Garden Restaurant of Buford provided a full meal to on-duty Gwinnett County fire crews and their families on Labor Day, Monday.

Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Volunteer Peggy Cody of the Buford Senior Center serves up dessert to firefighter Justin Moody while he eats a meal provided by the Olive Garden at the Gwinnett County Fire Station 24 in Buford on Monday. As a token of their appreciation the Olive Garden Restaurant of Buford provided a full meal to on-duty Gwinnett County fire crews and their families on Labor Day, Monday.

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan As a token of their appreciation the Olive Garden Restaurant of Buford provided a full meal to on-duty Gwinnett County fire crews and their families at the Gwinnett County Fire Station 24 on Labor Day, Monday.

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Gwinnett County firefighter Zach Schaller holds his 4-month-old son Lawson, beside his wife Katie while eating a meal provided by the Olive Garden at the Gwinnett County Fire Station 24 in Buford on Monday. As a token of their appreciation the Olive Garden Restaurant of Buford provided a full meal to on-duty Gwinnett County fire crews and their families on Labor Day, Monday. Schaller looks on to fellow firefighter Web Marshall, 4-month-old son Easton and wife Mandi.

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan General Manager Jim Myles of the Olive Garden at the Mall of Georgia expresses his appreciation for the firefighters who serve the community. As a token of their appreciation the Olive Garden Restaurant of Buford has been providing a full meal to on-duty Gwinnett County fire crews and their families on Labor Day since 2001.

BUFORD - With their ears pressed on their radios, firefighters from Gwinnett County Station 24 listened as a call was coming through.

The call wasn't for their station, though, and they were able to get back to their appreciation dinner with their families provided by the Olive Garden near the Mall of Georgia. For some, it meant going back to their conversations, while others got back to feeding their baby.

Olive Garden has put on the Labor Day-event for the fire station and Gwinnett County Police Department's North Precinct for the last three years as a way to show their appreciation for the work of the police officers and firefighters.

"We want to give back to the community," said Winston Johnson, a certified trainer at the Olive Garden who organized the event. "The firefighters and police officers do so much for this community and we wanted to show them how much we appreciate them."

The dinner featured salad, breadsticks, lasagna, spaghetti and a dessert, that even included accordion music in the background, giving a family-atmosphere feeling in the fire station's classroom.

"It's good that they're doing this," said station Capt. Clent Hughes. "It feels good to be appreciated."

What makes the meal even better for the public service personnel is the fact that their families are also invited to the event, giving wives and husbands a chance to enjoy a meal together on a night where they normally wouldn't.

"This means as much to the families as it does to the guys," Hughes said. "It's always good to be with family. And, this is one dinner these kids won't miss with their dads."

Hughes said that for many families, the fire station is just a part of life. All understand the sacrifices that are made when it comes to family time, but embrace the public-service life.

"My kids always enjoyed just coming to the fire station," he said. "Kids get to interact with other firefighter's kids and it brings that sense of community together."

Helping serve the firefighters and police officers were members of a local senior center and the local Boys and Girls Club.

"Don't worry, we're feeding them, too," Johnson said. "That would be kind of cruel to have the kids come here and help and not feed them. We wanted to do this big for everyone."