A line of cars snaked all through the College Park Plaza Shopping Center's parking lot Tuesday morning as volunteers from a group of local businesses handed out care packages to public safety, health care and other frontline workers.
Organized by Flying Dog Brewery, the Roasthouse Pub and McCutcheon's Apple Products, and funded by the brewery's First Amendment Society nonprofit, the drive-thru "happy hour" promised to provide a hot meal and a six-pack of beer to everyone deemed a "frontline hero" with a job in public safety or the health care field among others, said Niko Negas, Roasthouse Pub's executive chef. The pub worked hard to cook up hundreds of hot meals to give away during the event, which began at 7 a.m. and lasted until 2 p.m., the "happy hour" giveaway proved much more popular than the businesses had expected.
"We actually prepared for 400 meals and we ended up getting about 450 meals, and we ran out in about three and a half hours," Negas said with a chuckle. "So we're now supplementing with some gift cards from some other local businesses, the 7th Street Cafe and sandwich shop here have donated some sandwiches, so it's really been amazing, the turnout has been amazing."
Frontline workers appreciated the gesture, as they shouted their thanks from their cars when they rolled by the tent, many of them on their way home from a work shift.
Donette Jones, 51, of Frederick, a registered nurse for both the Holy Cross Hospital and Kaiser Permanente, was out on a shopping trip earlier Tuesday when she learned about the "happy hour" event from relatives in a family group chat.
"They sent me a message saying they were giving all first responders a meal and beer, so I said, 'Hey, I'm out anyways, I'll go get it,'" Jones said. "I think it's a really nice gesture."
A Flying Dog truck dropped off even more beer for the tent workers to hand out shortly before noon while McCutcheon's tried to keep up with jars of apple butter for each vehicle, as well. Meanwhile, Ben Savage, the chief marketing officer for Flying Dog, ran back and forth from the tent to several other restaurants in the shopping center picking up gift cards and more meals.
The line continued to grow as Savage dropped off a stack of pizzas donated by nearby Rosati's Pizza, prompting the volunteers under the tent to break out stacks of paper plates to divide up the food.
"We've been working on this for a few weeks now. We have a lot of great partners in the community and we all wanted to get together and do something really meaningful for the frontline heroes," Savage said, taking a quick breather. "We all really appreciate what they're doing for everyone else on the front lines and we thought we could just ... pull everybody together and see if we can't do something to show our appreciation for what they're doing."
While a second pick-up time had been announced from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the tent in an effort to provide food and beer for any workers who couldn't make the morning and early afternoon hours, Savage said the group had to cut those hours back to between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. because they weren't positive they'd be able to keep up with the demand.
Jeff Felter, 23, a firefighter/EMT with the Frederick County Division of Fire and Rescue Service, stopped by the event along with his girlfriend, 21-year-old Darian Low, who is a certified nursing assistant at the WellSpan York Hospital in York County, Pennsylvania. While working in such close proximity to people who have either contracted the virus or those who suspect they might be infected is tough, the couple said they were happy to be able to help.
Felter, who works out of Station 2 on North Market Street, has only been with the fire service for about eight months but the scale and the seriousness of the pandemic is new to everyone.
"It's definitely been different, a bunch of the guys who have a lot more time on the job have said it's like nothing they've ever really dealt with before," Felter said. "But the department's been doing a great job of keeping us safe and making sure everyone goes home safe."
Both Felter and Low agreed that acts of kindness and support like the "happy hour" event send a very supportive message that the community has their backs, which is comforting and heartwarming.
"It's a rewarding job as it is, and then to know that the community is behind you like that makes it that much better," Felter said.