Tuesday, May 01, 2007
Businesses keep giving in wake of shootings
Donated food and drinks made a difference for emergency workers, police say.
Signs of support
- Watch a slideshow of New River Valley businesses' signs of support.
Gene Dalton | The Roanoke Times
It just appeared.
Eggs and biscuits.
Pastries and tea.
Barbecue and toast.
During the aftermath of the April 16 shootings at Virginia Tech, which left 33 people dead, Blacksburg police Capt. Donnie Goodman said he knew he could count on someone feeding him.
"We spent a lot of hours out there, to the point where we would go home early in the morning and be back at work early in the morning," he said. "[The] week was compressed for me so much it seems like a single day."
But during that 168-hour day, local businesses pitched in, opening their hearts and kitchens to help those in need.
From Gillie's, a town mainstay, to newcomer Pee Wee's Pit Barbecue, rescue workers, law enforcement agencies and students and families were served. And often for free.
"In troubling times, it's important to know you have people's support," Goodman said. "I don't think I could've picked a better community to work for or work with."
Police joked that officers questioned how much weight they had gained during the week.
If they didn't eat, people stayed and talked.
Business leaders say the tragedy has extended their roles beyond serving food or selling shoes. Instead, they've become residents who understand the tragedy and a place where people can find a shoulder on which to cry, said Fringe Benefit owner Nancy Willoughby.
"That was certainly the way that I was raised," said Erin Vogt, co-owner of Pee Wee's Pit Barbecue on College Avenue. "If somebody needs something, even if you don't have much yourself, it's your responsibility to help as a person in this world."
Managers in surrounding towns said that when people didn't offer food, they have offered prayers.
Sheila Blake who manages Christiansburg's Chick-fil-A, which provided trays of food and sandwiches to police throughout the region, said the outpouring of support should be expected and will continue.
Goodman knows it will. It's the same response his department received when officers worked to capture escaped prisoner William Morva, who is accused of killing two people during and after his escape from custody in August.
No one has a tally of what exactly -- and how much -- was given in the wake of the shootings, said Leslie Hager-Smith, head of the Downtown Merchants of Blacksburg.
On Wednesday, she said the organization plans to convene and discuss possible ways to continue the giving.
At Backstreets, where rescue workers ate for free the whole week, owner Eric Strum said he wishes he could continue helping out.
The Main Street business put up a sign advertising free food midday April 16 and removed it April 22.
His business, and others, have been hit hard by an exodus of staff after the university offered an early-out option to students.
Still, he said he wants to continue to help.
"It was a little bit difficult taking it down, but it was just time," he said. "Everybody was going to school the next day."
Even if students have left, law enforcement said they won't forget what the business community has done for them.
"There's no way we could ever express how much we appreciate it," said State Police Sgt. F.L. Tyler.