Friday night at the Thelma Keller Convention Center featured live music, raffles, free food, and signs reading “Back the Blue.”
Branded as a “Back The Blue First Responder Appreciation Event,” it was organized in this summer in the wake of calls for police reform across the country as a way to show community support for first responders and law enforcement in the Effingham area.
What was originally planned as “rally” morphed into something in between a neighborhood block party and fundraiser concert. The duo of country guitarists who performed as “Broken Roots” on NBC’s America’s Got Talent provided entertainment. There were raffles for everything from a new 43 inch television to cutting boards with engraved police related imagery to a new pistol and holster.
People lined up for free burgers and hot dogs and waited in line to buy beer and cocktails from waitstaff in ruffled shirts and black bowties. Even if the event wasn’t a rally or march, people knew why they were there.
“I don’t think they [the police] are getting a fair deal right now,” said one attendee, Jeff Having. He attended to support the family members he had in law enforcement. Having’s daughter, who attended with him shared this view.
“I just want them to know that they’re doing good,” said Danielle Having.
Family was a common reason why people chose to attend.
“My grandfather was a deputy sheriff. My father was a firefighter. It’s been in my blood,” said Bruce Cox, a driver for Livin’ It Up, one of the monetary sponsors of the event. Cox emceed the evening with his daughter, Brooke Gross.
“I’m into law and order. It just has to happen,” Cox said, noting his deep respect for first responders who respond to danger. “When everyone else is running out, they’re running in.”
“They’re doing what no one else wants to do,” Gross said, sharing her father’s sentiment.
Marge Lancaster, an Effingham resident, was excited to be able to show her support for police.
“I think the police do a wonderful job. They make me feel safe, since I live alone,” she said.
Lancaster was also excited to support Austin Weinstock, who was performing at the event.
“Austin was raised in my church,” she noted.
First responders were at the event as well, though many in attendance were on actually duty, with police cars and ambulances idling at the edge of the parking lot.
Kelly Eyman was waiting by a Lakeside EMS truck, on standby in case of an emergency.
“Everybody seems to be having a good time,” she said.
Eyman finds that a lot of support she feels comes through the shared experiences of first responders.
“You become part of the family,” she said.
“It’s nice to have the community support. We don’t get that a lot in our line of work,” said Travis Monnet. “No one is excited to see a cop.”
Monnet was working security for the event. He had spent the day working as a detective for the Effingham County Sheriff’s Office.
Though not a partisan event, there were several connections to the Republican Party, highlighting the extent to which this issue has become polarized. The primary organizer for the event, Elizabeth Huston, is running as a Republican for Effingham County Board to represent District F. Blane Wilhour, a Republican member of the Illinois House of Representatives was a monetary sponsor, alongside the Effingham County Republican Central Committee.
Other donors to the event included Walmart of Effingham, Koerner Distributor, Northside Ford, McMahon Recycling, Heartland Towing, Effingham Tire & Auto Center, Orchard Inn, and Dust & Son Auto Supplies among others.
Money raised from will be donated to support things like Shop with a Cop programs, Special Olympics, and K9 Funds, according to Huston, the event’s organizer.