As the line for lunch at the Urban Ministry Center soup kitchen stretched around the building Monday, several new volunteers were also there – Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police officers and their wives.
Volunteers handed out bagged lunches and wore “Free Hugs” t-shirts, an offer several people in line accepted.
The event was part of “Back the Blue” day, an effort by police officers and their wives to reach out to the community. Organizer Chrissy Elder said the event was Charlotte’s first community outreach effort for the movement, which has taken hold in many places across the country to encourage public support for police officers.
In Charlotte, volunteers conducted a day of service, which included giving out the meals at Urban Ministry and a “hugathon” at The Green in uptown.
“We wanted to step up in a big way,” Elder said. “Just to show love in the city, and just unify our city.”
Another organizer, Rachel Decker, said reaching out was important in light of the recent shootings of officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge.
“Just to bring a positive light with all the darkness going on, we’re trying to bring some morale back up and bring people together,” Decker said.
Among Charlotte officers killed in the line of duty are John Burnette and Anthony Nobles, who were shot in 1993 by a suspect they were chasing.
Burnette’s mother, Trisha Norket, wore a straw hat and a wide smile as she chatted with people in line. Two women exclaimed that they recognized her from a recent TV appearance and hugged her.
Officer Paul Lambert handed out bottles of cold water from a cooler. One man thanked Lambert for his service and shook his hand. Another pointed to his own shirt, which read “No Justice, No Peace,” a phrase often chanted at protests over police shootings of black men.
Lambert said he’s felt additional support from the community in light of recent shootings of officers, though not from everyone.
“I mean, there’s some people who didn’t like us beforehand and aren’t gonna like us regardless,” he said.
Lambert said he became a police officer to help people.
“Events like this are when I actually feel like I get the satisfaction of it,” Lambert said. “I know I deter crime every day and generally keep the community safe, but it’s nice to be face-to-face giving back to the community.”
Rachel Herzog: (704) 358-5358, @rachel_herzog