SEBRING — The hickory smell of barbecue permeated the air at the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office parking lot on Wednesday. The Sebring Sunshine Rotary Club fired up the grills early in the morning to feed hundreds of people during the third annual First Responder’s Appreciation Lunch.

Greg Griffin grilled and smoked pork for some 12 hours to get the meat tender enough for pulling. According to fellow Rotarians, Highland County Tax Collector Eric Zwayer was responsible for the shredding of the pork. Traditional sides were present such as baked beans and potato salad. A dessert and ice-cold beverages were included.

Club President Matt Griffin said the event was being held on World Polio Day.

“This is for all of our first responders throughout the county,” he said. “We just want to say thank you to the first responders. They are the people that are there when things go wrong.”

The lunch cost over $1,000 to put on. Griffin said fundraisers held throughout the year helped to pay for it.

General Counsel for HCSO and Rotarian member Garrett Roberts coordinated how many people and meals were needed.

“We have had people coming in waves,” Roberts said. “It’s from the different shifts that EMS, fire and police officers work. We had to have food ready early to be delivered in time for lunch.”

It was estimated that the Rotarians would feed about 350 people. The grillers said they always prepare extra in case.

By 11 a.m. club members had delivered about 175 meals. This year, the delivered meals included the School Resource Officers, the Sheriff’s substation, the Emergency Operations Center and the northern and southern ends of the county that could not easily drive to Sebring for the feast.

The long line of lunch plate assembly included Highlands County School Board Superintendent and Rotarian member Dr. Brenda Longshore. Another assembler, Kelly McGee, is ironically a first responder — he is a volunteer firefighter for Placid Lakes and was serving the barbecue sandwiches in his role as a Rotarian Club member.

Detention Deputies Robert Copeland and Travis Dunn headed over to the Sebring Sunrise Rotary tents for lunch.

“This is very thoughtful,” Copeland said. “We are very grateful. It’s nice to be appreciated.”

Griffin was being a jokester but one thing he took seriously was ensuring the continuance of the annual event.

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