On a day of somber remembrance, a group of benevolent bakers and volunteering local residents are spreading cheer to first responders in Rhode Island cities and towns through a universally popular method – handing out free treats; including cookies, pastries and anything else volunteer helpers feel like whipping up.
Gwen Maccarone and her husband’s cousin Lori Parris have set up the appreciation day for first responders since 2002, a year after the world forever changed following the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington D.C.
“This really was created out of that feeling of not knowing what we could do to help and wanting to show our appreciation to the fire department and the first responders,” Maccarone said. “It started small with just family. We started going to fire stations and baking, and it's just gotten bigger and bigger.”
The appreciation day started in Pawtucket, where Parris resides, and Warwick, Maccarone’s home, and has since spread to Cranston, Providence, East Providence, North Kingstown and anywhere else that residents have volunteered to participate in the state. The group coordinates locations through a Facebook group and organizes their assortment of goodies the day prior to Sept. 11 each year. On the actual day, volunteers run the treats to fire stations, and they try to get to every single one of them in each community. Eventually, the group hopes to expand to include police departments in the donations too.
Maccarone said there is no strict regulations on what should be baked, or if the treats need to be home made or from the store. She said that the offerings range from cookies to brownies, cupcakes, pizzas and everything else imaginable. She said people have even arranged to have ice cream trucks parked outside the stations for a while.
“I don’t stress it and I don’t let anyone else stress about it,” she said. “Whatever they want to do is fine. If it isn’t from your heart, it isn’t worth anything.”
On Monday afternoon, a group of volunteers descended upon the Shields American League Post in Warwick to organize a huge batch of treats that were going to be delivered to the various communities the next day. Although it was only in the first hour of donations, which went from 3-8 p.m., the volume and variety of goodies was a sight to see, and indicative of the appreciation the volunteers have for those who risk their lives regularly in order to save others.
“A lot of people want to do something to show their appreciation. When you call 9-1-1 these are the people that come to your house, and so it's nice to give back,” Maccarone said. “It's really about the community coming together. It's something that we all can do to help.”