A police officer in Jackson, Mississippi is not only a protector. He or she is your neighbor, a former school mate or the person who sits next to you in the church pew.

That’s why Lieutenant Alfred Cooper of the Jackson Police Department said, in this community, law enforcement is very much appreciated.

“People can’t have bad feelings (about the police) because they know at least one officer they feel good about,” he said. “Everywhere I go, people tell us, ‘We appreciate you and support you,’ and that means a lot.”

To drive the sentiment home, neighbors rallied around JPD Precinct 4 on Saturday with an appreciation potluck, a feast that included fried chicken, tamales, lasagna and just about any other hearty culinary treat you could think of.

The event was spearheaded by Fondrenite Debbie Holt, who says, in light of news around the country, many had the same inclination to do something as a sign of support for law enforcement. “All I did was (take to online message board NextDoor) and say, ‘Hey it seems like a good time to show up,’” she explained of the group effort. “In the South, our tradition (to celebrate or to comfort) is to take food. It’s an extension of that, something concrete and tangible.”

Neighbor Julie Propst liked the idea, too, but, with so little time, she wondered how it would come together. “We met five days ago and I thought, ‘There’s not enough time,’” Propst said. “And today, I’m just overwhelmed and filled with gratitude… to live in a community that appreciates the folks who make a community what it is. It’s a real testament to Fondren and why this area is so great.”

The tables, two six-footers back to back and three lengths long, provided 108 square feet of space to be filled by donations from neighbors, restaurants and grocers from Fondren, Belhaven, Heatherwood and Highland Village, among others.

As law enforcement made their plates, a Jackson Fire Department crew followed their noses, too, up the stairs to the community room at Precinct 4. So did an Australian news crew whose first stop on a six-city tour chronicling police relations in the United States was Jackson. Precinct 4 Commander Keith Freeman welcomed them in, bragging on the community his department serves. Commander Freeman expressed gratitude, saying, “We’re overwhelmed by the outpouring from our neighbors.”

“I’m in awe of them, I really am,” Holt said sitting in the corner, watching her spark of an idea unfold. “I’ve participated in past appreciation meals but I’ve just dropped something off and left. It makes you want to do more when you see them in person and know what they face. And this is an important time for us to say something to our police. It’s helpful to them to know we are appreciative of all they do.”

Neighbor Dawn Macke said she heard someone mention this becoming a quarterly thing. “And that’s a great idea,” she surmised, “because it gives others the opportunity to participate.”

But Lt. Cooper, who was wide-eyed surveying the spread in front of him, said quarterly may put a kink in their goals. “We were trying to get a health plan going,” he laughed. “Oh well; we’ll start fresh next week.”

Additional photos at flickr.com