Olive Garden serves appreciation lunch to first responders and local heroes

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EL CENTRO - Olive Garden Restaurant in El Centro served an appreciation lunch to local fire departments on Labor Day to thank them for their hard work. Restaurant employees delivered and served lunch to three local stations, while first responders from the remaining stations were encouraged to join.

For more than 15 years, Olive Garden has provided an appreciation lunch for first responders nationwide, serving more than 10,000 appreciation meals, according to its website.

Raul Ojeda, Battalion Chief of the El Centro Fire Department, said he was surprised by the token of appreciation, despite the restaurant’s history of offering free lunches on Labor Day.

“I think it’s great that our local community’s businesses recognize our hard work and want to do something like this for us. We really appreciate it,” said Chief Ojeda.

The first responders at the El Centro Fire Department spend 24 hours on duty, and share dorm rooms during the shifts, followed by 24 hours off duty. The fire station has a gym for the fire fighters and paramedics to stay in tip-top shape, a day room so they can watch television and relax, and a fully-equipped kitchen.

Daniel Garcia, captain at the El Centro Fire Department, said they usually cook their lunch at the station and eat together. However, with Olive Garden’s appreciation lunch, the crew members did not have to cook on Labor Day

Bria Hill, an employee at Olive Garden, was one of the members to deliver and serve food to the first responders, and she smiled enthusiastically as she prepared lunch plates.

“It’s just a great opportunity to give back and show how much we really appreciate them,” said Hill.

The first responders are responsible for providing fire administration and prevention, emergency medical services, CPR and other trainings, and the protection of wildlife. Their mission statement is, “Protect life, property, and environment through mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery actions,” according to the website.

The job of a first responder can be physically demanding, as they must be physically able to carry people and heavy objects. Their job is also mentally demanding, as they respond to high stress situations while remaining calm.