The smell of smoked pork and hot kettle corn wafted in from the cold. Long tables covered with white plastic table clothes awaited crowds. A chorus echoed through the arena.
“I have a daughter with the police.”
“My husband’s an officer.”
“We have some good friends in the police department.”
Support for local police brought hundreds of people to Boone County’s Kemper Arena on Saturday for a silent auction and barbecue benefiting the Officer Down Fund.
This recent outpouring of community support comes days after Columbia police Officer Molly Bowden was buried. Bowden was shot Jan. 10 during a traffic stop and died a month later of complications from her wounds.
Columbia police Officer Shelly Jones, who was shot while on duty in 1996, coordinated ticket sales.
“I stopped counting,” she said. “There are about 300 people here right now. I am guessing we sold close to 1,000 tickets.”
The event began early Saturday morning when teams from the Beta Beta Que society started up the smokers.
Eight teams from the society, which only cooks for charity events, worked all day to prepare 1,700 pounds of barbecued meat for the event.
Elizabeth Infield, and her two daughters, Megan and Caitlin, enjoyed the food while showing support for their husband and father, Sterling Infield, Columbia Police Officer’s Association president.
“I think people used to take what the police do for granted,” Elizabeth Infield said. “I wish it didn’t take such a tragedy, but I think it has brought the community together.”
“The community has really stepped up to the plate; no one has turned us down,” said Officer Rob Kiesling, speaking about businesses that donated thousands of dollars worth of merchandise to the silent auction.
Since early January fund-raisers for the Officer Down Fund have brought in about $100,000.
The fund helps officers wounded on the job pay for health and quality of life expenses. Money also goes to the families of those who have been killed in the line of duty.
“The police survived this with class and professionalism, and it brought them together,” said Fred Seaman, a volunteer with the Police Department’s Citizens on Patrol program. Volunteers with the program patrol beats within the city and provide the police with information.
“Community involvement is what brings success to policing,” Seaman said.
From Dave Hestir, a full-time EMT who donated his skills at popping corn, to Boone County Prosecutor Kevin Crane who acted as emcee, Columbia residents came out to show support for the police.
“Columbia has grown from a town to a city,” said Jamey Johnson of Beta Beta Que. “It is in a rough transitional period. But people like Columbia Police Department make it better.”