Parnick Jennings was driving down Erwin St. one day about 18 years ago when he happened to come across an employee from a local sanitation department.
Jennings watched as the man went about his business, “working his rear end off” at a thankless job in the pouring rain.
“I wanted to do something,” Jennings said.
He founded the Public Servant Appreciation Luncheon in 2000, with the first event taking place at Dellinger Park and bringing in a couple of hundred people. The event has continued to grow since, and now regularly attracts well over 1,000.
This year’s event, the 18th Annual Public Servant Appreciation Luncheon, will take place Sept. 19 at the Cartersville Civic Center on Main St.
It was originally scheduled for Tuesday, but due to the possibility of inclement weather and the even greater need for public servants as Hurricane Irma approaches, it has been pushed back one week.
“I just want people to know that we appreciate what they do,” Jennings said.
The event will feature a steak dinner with all the trimmings and desserts, and then a program with prayer, the national anthem and pledge of allegiance. That will be followed by a 21-gun salute, a colors ceremony and a last fire call, which Jennings said, “If you’ve never seen it, it will put chills on you.”
Representative Christian Coomer is the guest speaker this year, and other elected officials will also express their gratitude for those in attendance.
“Usually, that program lasts about 30 minutes,” Jennings said. “And then, of course, they have to get back to work.”
All employees or retirees of the Bartow County or city governments, or the families of employees that have passed away, are invited to come. There is no cost to attend.
“It takes a lot of volunteers and the cost for a steak dinner is not cheap, so we have a number of good volunteers who are civic-minded and community-minded like I am,” Jennings said. “They pitch in and we all pay for it. We don’t want the people who come to pay a penny.”
While seemingly a small gesture to people who dedicate their lives to public service, Jennings has seen what kind of impact a simple “thank you” can have.
He recalled one instance when, as the owner of a funeral home, when he went to the house of a woman whose husband had recently died.
He found a picture of the deceased man on the woman’s refrigerator showing the man at the luncheon.
“The lady walked in and she said, ‘You’ll never know what it meant to my husband for you to feed him a steak dinner,’” Jennings recalled. “One of his jobs was cutting off the gas to someone when they got behind on their bill. So all he got was cussed at. So to have somebody say, ‘Thank you for what you do,’ it meant so much to him.”