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Roberdell churches feed first responders

Members of Roberdell United Methodist Church fed the volunteers of the Northside Fire Department for the 16th consecutive 9/11.
William R. Toler - Richmond Observer

ROCKINGHAM — For the first time in 16 years, the Northside Volunteer Fire Department was late for supper.

Since 2003, the congregation of Roberdell United Methodist Church has been providing a spaghetti dinner for the department on Sept. 11 as a gesture of gratitude.

Just as the crews were about to leave the station and head to the church, they were dispatched to an outdoors fire in the Little Philadelphia Community. So instead of stopping, fire trucks zoomed by with lights flashing and sirens blaring.

“That’s the first one we’ve had since we’ve had this supper,” said Chief Ed Causey. “We’ve had to leave at the end of it to go to call, but never right when we’re getting ready to come to the dinner.”

When they finally returned, the firefighters walked into the fellowship hall, greeted by the congregation with “For he’s a jolly good fellow …”

Several of the department’s board members were also there, including Chairman Jim Chavis, “Flukie” Hawkins (who is also a member of the church) and former county commissioner Thad Ussery.

Each table was covered in a blue and red gingham tablecloths and featured a plastic fire helmet, a small fire truck and a copy of “The Fireman’s Prayer.”

“We love to do it,” said church member Norma Garris.

In addition to the spaghetti and salad, the church members provided a selection of desserts, some of which were gobbled up quickly.

Bob Carpenter, chaplain for the department and former pastor of the church, said Texas Roadhouse donated the salad, rolls and bags of peanuts, the latter of which is always given to the firefighters who attend the yearly dinner.

Causey said the department appreciates the support of the church.

“We look forward to it every year,” he said.

With 40 square miles to protect, Northside has the largest service area in the county.

It boasts 38 volunteers, a 16-vehicle fleet and two stations. Last year, the department replaced one of its aging trucks and last week purchased new air packs.

Northside is also building its social media presence with Twitter and Instagram accounts.

After the meal, pastor Butch Farrah recounted the story of a fireman in New York who made several trips into the World Trade Center to save people, only to become a victim himself, 18 years before.

While he didn’t deliver a sermon, Farrah did quote scripture, a verse that was cited earlier in the day, prior to the 9/11 memorial march: 

“This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.


Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” – John 15:12-13 (KJV)


Down the road, Roberdel Baptist Church held a drop-in luncheon for first responders from 11 a.m.-2 p.m., though most had come and gone by 1:40.

The church secured donations from many local businesses — including Fatz, Burger King, Texas Roadhouse, Pizza Inn, Godfather’s Pizza, Taco Factory, Dairy Queen, the Berry Patch, Smithfield’s, Pattan’s Downtown Grille, No. 1 Diner, Fuji Grill, Food Lion, KFC, Arby’s, Zaxby’s and The Grille — to provide food, dessert and other supplies for the meal.

Organizers say the businesses were supportive and glad to donate.

Some of the church’s members even made a few desserts and other dishes like chicken and dumplings.

At the tables were “Thank You” placemats created by kids, and a “Thank You” banner with the names of the sponsors hung on the wall.

This is the second year the church has provided a lunch on Sept. 11.

Roberdel Baptist also participates in the local law enforcement breakfast circuit, where local churches take turns offering a free breakfast to officers.


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Managing Editor William R. Toler is an award-winning writer and photographer with experience in print, television and online media.