“Hey, how you been doing?” an officer wearing a Nash County uniform asked an Edgecombe County Sheriff’s Office detective.

“Good, and you?” was the response.

“Is Clee (Edgecombe County Sheriff Clee Atkinson) coming?”

“I think he is. He had something else going on, but I think so.”

“Good, it’s been a while since I’ve gotten a chance to visit with him. I hope he does.”

Conversations like this one were going on all across the Edgecombe Room at the Rocky Mount Event Center as first responders from Edgecombe and Nash counties came and went at the second Jim Dickens First Responders Appreciation Dinner.

Event chairwoman Kristen Brabble said 500 people were fed a year ago and upwards of 800 were expected to enjoy a meal of pulled pork and barbecue chicken from Abrams in Pinetops.

Brabble said not only could first responders come and enjoy a meal, meals to go were also available.

“For those who have to work, we’ll prepare their meals and send them to them,” she said. “Not long ago, we had someone come and pick up 14 meals for those on duty.”

Not only did the dinner give responders from different agencies the opportunity to catch up, it did the same for families.

“It’s probably one of the only events the whole family can go to and sit down and eat and spend time together,” said Rebecca Parks of Rocky Mount.

Parks said that her husband was a state marshal and went whenever the call came.

Tonight, the Parks were enjoying their food, even though her husband was wearing a blue volunteer shirt and up and down and around the room.

Son Benjamin and Alan were busy eating as mom talked, pausing on for a “It’s really good” from Benjamin and “Good” from Alan as he dove back into his plate for more mac and cheese with a grin.

Brabble said the event, which was obviously being enjoyed by everyone, came from Dickens, who appreciated the commitments and sacrifices made by first responders and their families.

And just as the dinner meant a great deal to the recipients, it was also meaningful for his three children — son Rusty and daughters Carol and Missy.

“This means the world to us,” Rusty said, tearing up. “My father was a very benevolent man who always wanted to show his appreciation to the first responders.

“In his later years, they would come by the house just to check on him and see how he was doing.”

Rusty said the fact the dinner was held even after his father died is a tribute to Babble’s commitment.

“I can’t say enough about Kristen. I listened to them plan and get things started, but she is the catalyst for this whole thing.”

Brabble would tell you it was Dickens who sparked it all.

“Jim was my mentor and this was one of the things he wanted," she said. "I only wish he was here to see what his vision has become.”