Law Enforcement Honored At 5th Annual Bartow Ford Back The Blue Luncheon
by James Coulter
Law enforcement officers from across the county had the opportunity to enjoy a complimentary barbecue meal during the fifth annual Bartow Ford Back The Blue Luncheon last Thursday.
For the past five years, Bartow Ford has been hosting this luncheon to show their gratitude for the hard work that police officers, first responders, and other law enforcement officials do to protect and serve their local community.
Several tables were set outside the car dealership, draped in blue tablecloths and topped with Thin Blue Line flags, providing enough room for any law enforcement officer to take a plate and seat with a free meal on the house.
Fresh smoked pulled pork and ribs were served, along with all of the traditional “fixings” including corn bread, baked beans, and cole slaw, as well as dessert including “Thin Blue Line” flag-decorated cookies.
The Honorable Sheriff Grady Judd attended this year’s event. He has been attending the luncheon with his fellow officers ever since the luncheon started five years ago. He loves the food, and he especially loves the people.
“I appreciate that they [Bartow Ford] are showing their appreciation for law enforcement,” Sheriff Judd said. “These law enforcement officers stand in the gap between good and evil, they take a bullet so that you don’t have to. That is the kind of people they are, and Bartow Ford wants to show how much they appreciate our service, and we appreciate them for that.”
Benny Robles Jr., President and Owner of Bartow Ford, and someone who has been working there at his father’s company since he was 12 years old, started the luncheon as a way for his company to show their support for the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.
Bartow Ford hosts at least ten community events per year. His company supports the local community, and they especially support local law enforcement, which inspired them to start this annual luncheon, Robles said.
Normally, the Back The Blue Luncheon is hosted earlier in the year when the weather is cooler; but due to the COVID-19 crisis, the event was postponed until later. Aside from the pandemic, the event proves especially timely in light of nationwide protests concerning police brutality.
Robles firmly believes there should be some police reform, but he also believes that law enforcement plays a vital role in protecting their community, and for that reason, they should receive recognition and appreciation.
“We realize that police officers and first responders are and important members of the community,” he said. “We in the community appreciate them and we thank them.”
Amy Sumerlin, Bartow Ford Marketing Director, loves the event, not only because it helps show appreciation for local cops and first responders, but because her own daughter is a deputy.
“My favorite cop calls me mom, that makes it all the more special for me,” she said. “We just want to show support in these tumultuous times. We know that there are a lot of cops, 99 percent, who are good, and we want to show that we believe that: that not a few bad apples somewhere in the nation make all of them bad.”
This year’s event, even in the midst of the pandemic and uncertain times, drew in a great turnout. Due to social distancing, only half the number of tables were set, and yet that was more than enough to seat the many officers who came throughout the day.
Many officers like Sheriff Judd have been coming since the event first started five years ago. For many others, like officers Joel Morales and G DeSouza from Haines City, this was their first year.
“We wanted to be part of what they are celebrating,” Officer DeSouza said. “The fact that they support law enforcement right now in this much needed time, we definetly wanted to come out today. This is amazing.”
“If this is like this every year, than I’m going to start coming every year,” said officer Morales. “The dedication they have for law enforcement here and the way they care for us is amazing. This is bar none the best.”