The best of Piedmont was on full display Friday as hundreds of residents gathered for a community picnic as a way to fellowship and say “thank you” to emergency personnel that had responded in the wake of the May 24 tornado.
“This is a good day,” Mayor Valerie Thomerson said. “I think we really needed this.”
In the field next to city hall several regional companies – such as Chesapeake Energy, Love’s and McDonald’s – set up booths offering free food and drinks, KOCO Channel 5 televised its evening news casts from a mobile studio, and kids partook in activities such as a moon bounce and face painting station.
The event was created as a celebration of the hundreds of police and rescue crews that came to Piedmont to offer help when a tornado ripped through town earlier this year. Channel 5 had notified city officials that it had an interest in doing a day of filming in town to highlight Piedmont’s community spirit and it was decided to merge the two events together.
Joey Owens has been with the Richland Fire Department for over half a year and came to Piedmont with his company after the tornado.
“As soon as I got (to town) I got with my chief and we headed over to (Falcon) Lake and started searching for the (missing) 3-year-old boy,” Owens said. “That’s what we were doing until after midnight.”
Owens said he was just one of many rescue workers that came to Piedmont and it felt rewarding to be thanked with a community picnic.
“I didn’t know it was going to be this big; it’s exciting,” Owens said. “You want (appreciation) but you don’t say anything about it, but it’s always good to have the recognition. It makes it even better to do your job.”
Stuart Eldridge lives in Piedmont and is a member of the Oklahoma City Fire Department. On the night of the tornado he was off duty and was out of town. About an hour after the tornado passed he traveled back to Piedmont and was grateful to find his house unharmed. Eldridge attempted to help out that night and traveled into damaged neighborhoods the next day with other members of this department.
“When we have an emergency call we help whoever,” Eldridge said. “But when it’s your hometown you are a little more concerned and it means something.”
Emergency workers spent the picnic mingling with residents, some of which had lost their home in the tornado. Community organizations, such as Feed the Children, were also present to help bring relief to storm victims. T-shirts were on sale to raise money for relief efforts and dozens of volunteers from local businesses and Channel 5’s Helping Hands Tour were also on hand.