WAGONER COUNTY, Okla. — Memorial Day is a time to honor the men and women who fought and died for our freedom.
Many will visit cemeteries and cities and towns across America will hold parades to commemorate today.
There are always new ways to honor America's heroes and pay it forward every day.
When it's lunchtime at Luke's BBQ, there are generous piles of hot, fresh brisket served up with heaping helpings of gratitude.
"I thank god for them and what they do for us," says Luke Tramel, owner of Luke's BBQ.
Tramel's military roots run deep in his family tree.
"My dad was in the Air Force, my uncle was in the Air Force, my brother was in the Air Force," Tramel mentions.
It was no surprise that this Coweta business owner was first to take part in 'Pay it Forward for Heroes,' a community donation-based program providing free meals to men and women in uniform.
"They put their lives on the line for me, and if it means I'm able to give back to them in a very kind way, then I'm willing to do that," says Tramel.
Chris Leffingwell founded the program during the pandemic to show appreciation for our military, police, firefighters, and paramedics.
"How many times are you in a restaurant and you see someone in uniform and you say, hey I'm going to secretly pay for their meal," says Leffingwell. "Um, why do I have to be in the restaurant at the same time as someone in uniform? Why can't I prepay for that so I don't miss the opportunity?"
So Leffingwell created a fund for the community to cover heroes' meals.
"We don't keep a dime of that money. It doesn't go to pay any administrative costs."
Participating restaurants and businesses have these 'Pay it Forward for Heroes' signs. Customers can donate cash at these locations or make tax-free donations online.
It's this way that when heroes walk in, they can eat for free.
"As long as I've been working in law enforcement this is the first time I've actually come across where paying it forward has been at the establishment ready for us to come in," says Sgt. Jeff Halfacre from the Wagoner County Sheriff's Office.
Nine Wagoner County businesses are currently paying it forward. 1843 on Broadway is the latest to join.
For Kellie Howard, it's personal. She and her husband used to work in law enforcement.
"Being able to bring people to the table but then also feed them and pay for that is a little gesture that we could do in the community and we hope that more people can get involved," says Howard, co-owner of 1843 on Broadway.
Since the program began in August, Leffingwell estimates the program has served about 5,000 free meals.
"If you knew what law enforcement officers make on the county level or the local level, it's not much," says Leffingwell. "So this is a way to say look, we appreciate the work you do, we appreciate the sacrifice you make and we recognize that."
Paying it forward for heroes is a simple way the community can those who serve, by serving them.
'Pay it Forward for Heroes' isn't just limited to Wagoner County. The program is looking into ways to expand statewide.
To find out what restaurants or businesses participating or how to donate, anyone can visit the program's website.
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