A Tampa Thanksgiving | Jane Castor
Tampa’s mayor describes the community coming together to honor first responders.
Tampa Mayor Jane Castor gives a speech after taking the oath of office May 1 at  Armature Works. [OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times]
Tampa Mayor Jane Castor gives a speech after taking the oath of office May 1 at Armature Works. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]
Published Nov. 27, 2019|Updated Nov. 28, 2019

Living in Tampa — a city that is growing in such wonderful ways, a city that is welcoming to all and a community that comes together in good times and bad — is something that should fill our hearts with gratitude.

As Thanksgiving Day approaches, I want to share an experience that speaks to the very core of what makes our community remarkable.

Tim Moore of Diamond View wanted to find a way that he could say thank you to our First Responders. When he shared his thoughts with some friends, word spread quickly and a community came together to host One Table, an event that brought 100 police officers, firefighters, paramedics and dispatchers together for food, fellowship and gratitude.

One long table was set up next to the water on the veranda outside the Tampa Convention Center. The table was beautifully decorated by Susan Nations of Joyful Events and a group of volunteers. An incredible traditional Thanksgiving meal was provided by Ryan Conigliaro and Scott Roberts of Salt Block Catering and served by a sea of volunteers from throughout our community. Blessing of the meal and inspiring words were given by Rev. Jake English from Creekside Church. Others graciously giving time and donations included: John Mitchell from Coca Cola, Craig Richard from the Tampa Bay EDC, Michael Miller from Traditions Rentals, Bob Conigliaro from Caspers Company, Keith O’Malley from USAA, Jeff Gigante from Forbici Modern Italian, and Dr. Ken Atwater from Hillsborough Community College.

Citizens whose lives have been impacted by first responders shared their stories on a stage where the backdrop was adorned by hundreds of thank you cards written by young schoolchildren. Their stories were incredibly moving and heartfelt, but none as much as a young woman who spoke about the devastating murder of her mother. Speaking through tears and with utter despair, she shared that in the process of solving the crime against her mother, the detective had saved her life.The case had been investigated and solved by Detective Alex Gady. But it wasn’t as much about the case as it was the way Detective Gady gracefully and compassionately led the young woman through this most difficult of times. One Table was the first time the two had the opportunity to meet in person. Others also shared stories that night of bravery, skill, caring and compassion that, in my experience, could be told a thousand times over just under different circumstances.

Through the evening there was much laughter, a few tears and an overwhelming demonstration of appreciation from a grateful community. As the first responders left that evening to return to duty, each was given a card made specifically for them by a young child. As they opened the cards I saw countless smiles and more than a few tears. For you see, those who dedicate their lives to serving our community do so without expectation of recognition or appreciation, but a simple thank you can mean so much.

My heartfelt appreciation to all who had a hand in planning, preparing and presenting One Table. This event stood out as an example of what makes Tampa such an incredible community. I wish everyone could have been there, as the evening was truly magical — a night that I will never forget.

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As you welcome family and friends this Thanksgiving, take a moment to appreciate all of the blessings in your lives and imagine ways that you can create positive change in our community — help those less fortunate, mentor a child, improve our environment or, in today’s divisive atmosphere, simply be kind to one another.

As you are comfortably nestled around the table with family and friends this holiday season, think of those civil servants who are out on the streets working to ensure that you and your family are safe and sound. And if you happen upon a first responder, a simple “Thank you” means the world.

Happy Holidays to all.

Jane Castor is mayor of Tampa.