Area representatives from Country Financial insurance company decided to kick off Small Business Week a few days early while simultaneously showing their appreciation for local first responders.

Agents Terry Baecker, Chad Fox, Steve O’Neill, Amanda Seelye, and Brett Wolter, and Agency Manager Tony Laesch purchased a total of $5,500 in merchandise from locally owned businesses. The resulting 220 gift bags contained gift cards and a variety of snacks, and were distributed to such first responders as Pekin and Tazewell County police officers, local firefighters and emergency medical technicians Wednesday morning at the Tazewell County Justice Center in Pekin.

“We wanted to give back to local businesses and also give back to the first responders,” said Country Financial agent Amanda Seelye. “Every day, first responders put their lives at risk for the community. We want to show our appreciation for what they do, especially since we’re in a pandemic.”

According to Jeri Dobbelaire, a Country Financial agency office assistant, the gift bag donation to first responders is part of a company-wide Operation Helping Heroes initiative. Operation Helping Heroes was launched in 2015 to support active duty military members, veterans, first responders, and their families.

“The local group wanted to do something here for Pekin,” she said. “Country Financial purchased the items from local businesses, because we wanted to support them during this time as well. The first responders can go and have a nice meal as a thank you gift from us.”

Tazewell County Sheriff Jeffrey Lower noted that the timing of Country Financial’s gesture was appropriate not only because Small Business Week begins May 3, but also because next week is Correctional Officer Week and the following week is Police Week.

“This is a kind gesture that we appreciate very much,” Lower added. “We’re happy to be in such a caring community.”