By Stephanie Warsmith
Beacon Journal staff writer
Forget fast food. Bring on the prime rib.
Akron police officers, firefighters and other safety officials dined in style on Christmas Eve, thanks to a meal catered by Ken Stewart’s restaurant.
Members of local safety forces enjoyed prime rib, cheesy potatoes and salad provided by Ken Stewart’s, as well as rigatoni from Akron Family Restaurant and ornate Christmas cookies from West Side Bakery. The meal was served from 3 p.m. Tuesday till 3 a.m. today at the Safety Forces Chaplaincy Center on Furnace Street.
This was the fourth year for the meal, with invitations given to police departments in the Akron area, the Summit County Sheriff’s Office and the State Highway Patrol. About 150 were expected to take part this year, up from about 100 last year. Local dispatchers and medics weren’t left out; they were provided with carryout meals.
“It’s a big deal,” said the Rev. Bob Denton, executive director of the chaplaincy center. “By 3 a.m., some shifts are coming back a second time and talking about the crazy things that have happened.”
Denton said he appreciates the generosity of local businesses who provide food for the holiday meal, especially Ken Stewart, who owns four upscale restaurants in Northeast Ohio and has been a big supporter of the chaplaincy center, which provides counseling, training, debriefing and other services for local safety force members.
“It’s not an insignificant task,” Denton said of the meal.
Stewart, whose restaurants were open Christmas Eve, had employees come in early Tuesday to prepare the meal. He and his staff have been planning for several weeks.
“They do a great job,” he said of the police officers and firefighters. “It’s a way of reaching a lot of people during the holidays. We certainly believe in everything they’re doing.”
Volunteers picked up the food from the businesses Tuesday afternoon and set it up in a warmer. They used canister heaters to keep the food warm, replacing trays as soon as they were empty.
Akron Police Capt. Sylvia Trundle, who chairs the chaplaincy center board, said officers appreciate the meal, especially because not many places are open Christmas Eve. She said if an officer gets a call, he or she can take a to-go box or leave and come back later.
“The safety forces are like no other family,” she said. “When we can’t be with our own families, it’s nice for us to have a place to come and be with our other family.”
The center was decked out for the holidays, including a Christmas tree decorated with the badges of each safety force in Summit County.
Asked the best part of the meal, several officers with heaping plates of food weren’t able to choose.
“It’s all good,” Officer Joe Danzy said.
Akron Firefighter Brian Simon, who was off on Christmas Eve but working on Christmas Day, volunteered to help with the meal for a few hours. He packed up a few large Christmas cookies to bring to his children, who are used to their father not being home for the holiday.
“This is an awesome deal,” Simon said. “It’s nice that somebody is thinking of the people who have to work.”
Stewart said he isn’t providing the meal “for the notoriety.” Denton, though, thinks Stewart deserves some recognition for consistently providing this nice holiday offering.
“He’s done this — and kept doing it,” Denton said.