Greeson: Unlimited breadsticks, salad and kindness at local Olive Garden

Greeson: Unlimited breadsticks, salad and kindness at local Olive Garden

April 17th, 2018 by Jay Greeson in Opinion Columns

Monday morning, there was a slew of bigwigs getting together to have the serious conversation about safety in our schools.

As a parent of two Hamilton County school students, I am encouraged by the effort, interest and engagement evident from events like this one. It's an important topic, one everyone from Sheriff Jim Hammond to Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger and all of the other elected officials who participated, to national experts and local organizers seems committed to doing something about.

Sadly, a reality is that every preventive measure we can take as a community could be sidestepped by those determined to sacrifice their lives in efforts to kill.

Jay Greeson

Jay Greeson

Photo by Staff File Photo /Times Free Press.

And it's the variable that no one can calculate when dealing with the nightmares that go as far back as Columbine and have continued to echo through Parkland, Fla., and Marshall County, Ky.

Well, while there may never be a universal answer to stop deadly school violence, here in Chattanooga over the weekend we saw the ultimate cure if we can never find the ultimate solution.

Tragedy struck Marshall County High in Benton, Ky., in late January. Two students were killed from a trigger pulled by a teenager. More than a dozen were injured.

As devastating as it was, nationally it was in a lot of ways overshadowed by the Parkland massacre.

Amid the gun control controversy and protests that followed the Parkland shooting, Marshall County was masked. But that does not diminish the heartbreak or the need for compassion.

That was certainly the case this weekend.

The Marshall County High track team was in Chattanooga for a meet. How they fared in the sprints, the relays or the field events was good.

How we fared as a city and a community thanks to Bill Funderburk and the leadership at the Hamilton Place Olive Garden could not have been better.

Funderburk was in charge when the Marshall County tracksters came to eat. There were a bunch of them.

Two of the track team's members who made the trip last weekend — Christian and Mason Cosner — were injured in the January shooting; Christian was trampled and some ribs were broken, and Mason was shot in the neck.

Funderburk called his bosses to make sure it was A-OK, and after getting an overwhelming thumbs up from the bigwigs, the Hamilton Place Olive Garden comped the $789.26 bill.

"One of our coaches said it best: 'It's not about the money. We could have afforded the meal,'" Marshall County Coach Laken Dirkes Adair told the Paducah Sun. "It's just about the love and support that these kids get all the time. That's what matters."

Philip Wilson, the director of operations at Olive Garden, concurred and said Funderburk did the right thing.

"The manager did an awesome thing, and I am so proud of the team at Hamilton Place," Wilson wrote in an email Monday. "Once we found out the team was from Marshall County, we had to do something to let them know people are still good and that we did not forget what they experienced on that awful day."

Funderburk told the Paducah, Ky., paper: "We just really wanted those kids to have a good time. ... I'm a father of seven, so I'm a big softie when it comes to kids. It could have been any one of our kids."

It absolutely could have been, Bill. And because of that, we need groups and folks like Hammond, Coppinger and the rest of our leaders trying to find the best way to protect our kids.

But Funderburk and the folks at Olive Garden reminded all of us that when the worst happens, we can show that kindness can never be stopped.

Contact Jay Greeson at jgreeson@timesfreepress.com and 423-757-6343.

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