SAGINAW (WJRT) (9/3/2018) - First responders in the Flint and Saginaw areas didn't go hungry on Labor Day thanks to free lunch from Olive Garden.
The popular restaurant chain's 850 U.S. locations fed emergency responders as part of a tradition started in 2002.
The Saginaw Fire Department, Saginaw and Saginaw Township police departments and Saginaw County 911 Central Dispatch all were treated to a lunch of Italian favorites and breadsticks.
"It's fantastic that they continue to do this every year," said Randy Pfau, the Saginaw County 911 director.
Cindy Turner of Olive Garden said the chain is happy to prepare and serve heroes around the country on Labor Day.
"It's a tough job -- an American hero job," she said of first responders.
Olive Garden started the free meals with fire departments 17 years ago and expanded to include police, EMS and 911 dispatchers about five years ago. The Saginaw Olive Garden prepared about 100 meals Monday.
Turner said all of the employees who prepared the meals and delivered them to first responders were volunteering their time.
"It's definitely a team effort," she said. "There are people back at the Olive Garden, where would we be without them."
Saginaw police officer Nathan Voelker said the free meal means a lot to first responders. Their families also were invited to take part.
"You see it in the news all the time, people's love for the police," Voelker said. "Sometimes it's there and sometimes it's not. And when the community actually shows up and says, 'Hey we support you,' it just makes every day a lot easier."
In most cases, the first responders have trouble fitting in a lunch break during their shifts.
"They can't leave," Pfau said of his dispatchers. "They have to be on call at their work stations here at the jail and to include our center here at 911."
A handful of Flint-area first responders also got free meals from Olive Garden.
"Thank you everybody," Turner said. "Thank you for putting your lives on the line. Thank you."