In a night of appreciation for law enforcement, firefighters and EMTs, Verndale Alliance Church members, a small group who call themselves grateful citizens, served up pancakes at Sunnybrook Park on June 30.

After hearing the “negativity” of conversations on defunding the police around the country, the group wanted to offer their gratitude, according to associate pastor Rev. Daryl Jacobsen and event organizer Vickie Thompson.

“It’s been bothering me a lot,” Thompson said in reference to the defunding the police conversations. “I thought this is so awful, so my biggest goal with this is … to challenge other counties to do something to support their local officers, and have our voice be heard because we are not agreeing with the defunding and we want to be heard. It’s not just Minneapolis-St. Paul, it’s us too.”

Law enforcement officials and firefighters along with their families enjoyed the pancakes and sausage and people enjoyed chatting and hearing from State House of Representatives District 9A Rep. John Poston. Poston is on the Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Finance and Policy committee and spoke about the current defunding the police conversations and protests in Minneapolis-St. Paul and how people are making police out to be all bad. The conversations and protests across the country focus on police reform, systemic racism and police brutality including the killing of George Floyd.

“It’s really great when I call back here and the story is completely the opposite, how people respect the police and appreciate them and know that we need to have them for sure,” Poston said.

Wadena County Sheriff's Office chief deputy Joe Schoon said the community has always been supportive of the police and knowing the people here is the reason he originally returned to start his law enforcement career. Schoon also highlighted how Sheriff Michael Carr encourages the deputies to get involved in the community outside of work.

“We always train the deputies that if you respect the community they’re going to respect you back, if you get out and get to know your community they’re going to want to know you,” Schoon said.

As the grateful citizens group has personal connections with first responders, they expanded their gratitude beyond law enforcement. Thompson respects officers and deputies including those she has seen serve the community after car accidents, which her previous business in Wadena partnered with to help tow cars for 20 years.

“They put their lives on the line a lot and we don’t recognize that enough, how much they do and just for simple things,” Thompson said. “They’re not just a police officer, they have to be like a pastor, they have to be so many things that we take for granted. They are all of it wrapped up in one because of the circumstances they’re in.”

Verndale Fire and Rescue firefighter Dan Fischer came to support the sheriff’s and police departments, who he works with often.

“I know what they go through because we rub shoulders with these guys all the time on calls,” Fischer said. “I just know what their dedication is and it’s 100%.”

Fischer joined 41 years ago to make sure someone shows up when a 9-1-1 call is placed since people call in emergencies. He wants people to continue having someone show up.

“We recognize that they make sacrifices and they put themselves at risk in order to serve us and provide protection and to enforce the law and so we’re grateful for the fact that that brings law and order to our community and a sense of peace and safety within our communities,” Jacobsen said about why he is grateful for first responders in the area.