Emergency services personnel give thanks to Guardians group

Friday, October 11, 2002

Many hope it is a benefit that will not be needed, but the surviving family members of any Cape Girardeau County firefighters and police officers killed in the line of duty are the beneficiaries to more than $62,000 collected by the Guardians.

The local not-for-profit group, which formed in May 2001, held an appreciation dinner for its members Thursday night at the Cape Girardeau Country Club.

The local men and women who work in emergency services are deeply appreciative of the generosity of the Guardians, said Cape Girardeau police chief Steve Strong.

"It means a lot of security for their families," he said. "It's no secret to those who enter the fire and police service that it isn't a line of work where you're going to make a lot of money. That's not why they're in it anyway. So, it's a good feeling to know their families will be taken care of should the worst happen. They have a lot of pride in knowing that the community wants to help. Now, we just hope we never have to call on it to be used."

Patterned after the St. Louis-based Backstoppers program, the Guardians would immediately provide $3,000 to the surviving spouse or family of any firefighter or policeman.

While the federal government also provides assistance to those families, such relief does not arrive as quickly as the first check from the Guardians.

"There is something about receiving the cash at that time that is comforting to the families," board member Bob Neff said to those attending the dinner.

Soon afterward, the group would begin paying off the surviving family's debts, including home mortgages, and provide annual stipends of $2,000 for each school-age child through high school.

Executive director R.J. McKinney said the group has 109 charter members, who pledged $1,000 to be paid over three years. Many of those members have already paid their fee. At the close of the dinner, charter members received plaques of recognition.

A 13-member board, made up of charter members, administers the Guardians. In its first year, the group raised more than $45,000 from members. McKinney said donations from nonmembers are greatly appreciated as well.

mwells@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 160

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