In a year where COVID-19 has loomed over just about every aspect of life around the world, it remained an inescapable topic as Gwinnett County leaders gathered in Buford for the Red, Blue and You event on Thursday.

The annual event, held at Tom Riden Stadium because of the pandemic, is designed to be a time to thank public safety workers in the county just ahead of Thanksgiving. This year was a little different, however, as people working on the front line, including health care providers and teachers, were included among the people receiving thanks.

Even grocery store workers and restaurant employees got shout outs at the event.

“Our community heroes here in Gwinnett County have risen to the challenges and have continued to provide great services to the community, and we need to not forget that,” county commission Chairwoman Charlotte Nash told the audience. “Even once we’re all vaccinated and we’re on to the next crisis, We need to make sure we continue to acknowledge the service that so many people put in on a daily basis to ensure that Gwinnett is a great place.”

A recurring message at this year’s Red, Blue and You event was not only “Thank You,” but also praise for the work front line workers and first responders have done during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The event even included a song that the Buford Middle School chorus sang where the lyrics repeatedly included the line “You’re doing a good job.”

Nash also presented a proclamation declaring Thursday as Gwinnett County Community Heroes Day during the event.

“The citizens of Gwinnett worked together, serving thousands of overtime hours and dedicating themselves beyond the call of duty to assist, feed, care for and serve and protect each other and the community at large,” Nash said as she read the proclamation. “The citizens of Gwinnett, including all parents, teachers, administrators, first responders, healthcare workers and each worker and volunteer have shown their commitment to each other and this community.”

Red, Blue and You organizer Raymer Sale said this year’s change to include offering appreciation for front line workers and teachers may not be a one-time thing. After all, the expectation is that the pandemic will likely carry over into 2021 as well before a vaccine is widely available and distributed.

“It’s probably something we will include again,” Sale said. “We’ve changed our logo ... It’s changed to ‘Community Heroes’ (from ‘Gwinnett’s First Responders’) so we’ll probably include them (next year).”

Volunteers from the group behind the event tied ribbons and drew chalk messages of support for educators and health care workers outside schools and hospitals around the county on Thursday as well.

Despite the heavy focus on thanking people involved in keeping Gwinnett County safe during the pandemic, there were still some elements of Red, Blue and You that echoed its roots as a public safety tribute. Organizers also recognized the death of Gwinnett County Police SWAT K-9 Blue and highlighted the upcoming 50th anniversary of the establishment of a single county-wide fire department.

But, time and again, it came back to the pandemic response.

Gwinnett Chamber President and CEO Nick Masino said the people who protect the health and safety of the county make it possible for the county’s business leaders to attract new businesses and support existing ones.

“We take a lot of things for granted in our community because all of the work that lots of public servants do,” Masino said. “We turn the tap on and the water flows. We go out and our streets are beautiful and clear. The only good thing about COVID is the lack of congestion, but the reality is we take a lot of things for granted.

“I can tell you, you are not forgotten and we appreciate everything you do. We appreciate that when we dial 9-1-1 and someone’s there to help us and someone responds. So, we appreciate all of you.”

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I'm a Crawford Long baby who grew up in Marietta and eventually wandered to the University of Southern Mississippi for college. Earned a BA in journalism (double minor in political science and history). Previously worked in Florida and Clayton County.

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