Battalion Chief Oscar Gonzalez talks with H-E-B partner Jar Vasquez at Fire Station 35, where H-E-B employees honored firefighters with meals to mark the 9/11 anniversary. Credit: Shari Biediger / San Antonio Report

H-E-B employees marked the 16th anniversary of 9/11 Monday by participating in service projects that honored the state’s police, fire, and EMS personnel, preparing meals, washing trucks, and lending a helping hand. The annual tradition went on despite H-E-B’s heavy involvement in relief efforts since Hurricane Harvey pummeled the coast and caused devastating flooding in Houston.

On top of deploying mobile kitchens and volunteers in support of emergency shelters in the last two weeks, H-E-B has provided $3 million in monetary commitments and products to help with relief and recovery. H-E-B Chairman and CEO Charles Butt led a local outpouring of support with a precedent-setting pledge of $5 million of his personal wealth to a Harvey recovery fund run by Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt.

H-E-B’s annual service program commemorates Sept. 11 as a national day of service and remembrance, paying tribute to the first responders who risked and lost their lives during the 2001 terrorist attacks. Of the nearly 3,000 people killed that day, 412 were emergency workers in New York City who responded to the World Trade Center.

Employees from H-E-B on Monday volunteered at more than 135 fire stations in San Antonio. At one station on the city’s northwest side, where memorials and flower honoring fallen firefighter Scott Deem remain almost four months after his death, a dozen employees from Store 37 at Grissom and Tezel roads delivered appreciation for the firefighters’ service by way of both breakfast and lunch.

“Every store adopts their nearest station. We’ve been doing this station for 15 years,” H-E-B spokeswoman Julie Bedingfield said. “This year, obviously, it takes on an elevated meaning, just knowing these guys have been stretched thinner than normal, responding to Hurricane Harvey, both deploying some of our firefighters and the high-water issues they’ve been dealing with in San Antonio.

“I think everyone needs a little break. They need someone to cook a meal for them and just recognize them for their efforts.”

On the lunch menu at Fire Station 35 were juicy ribeye steaks cooked medium-well with a side of grilled lobster tail, enough for 21 firefighters. H-E-B partner Adam Ambriz manned the pit with assistance from Frank Villanueva. “We just wanted to do our part,” Villanueva said.

H-E-B partner Frank Villanueva prepares steaks for first responders at Fire Station 35. Credit: Shari Biediger / San Antonio Report

Battalion Chief 3 Oscar Gonzalez said it was important for the firefighters to feel this community support.

“We’re all about serving the community, so H-E-B is a big partner with us in community support,” said Gonzalez, a 23-year member of the San Antonio Fire Department who is proud to have followed in his father’s footsteps. “Especially on a day like today when any one of us can tell you where we were 16 years ago, so that’s very much on our minds.”

A somber day in the nation is made even more solemn at Fire Station 35 by the loss of Deem on May 18. Deem and the rest of Ladder 35 responded to a fire that broke out at the Ingram Square strip mall. Deem got lost in the flame-engulfed structure and died.

“We all knew Scott and loved him,” Gonzalez said. “He made the ultimate sacrifice and we’ve always known that is one of the risks that comes with the job, and we’re willing to take on that risk to serve the public. But it’s still very hard to remember the events of that day. So we move forward and we certainly appreciate the public’s support in remembering Scott.”

H-E-B Store 37 also delivered an additional 100 meals to the West Patrol Police Substation next door to the Culebra Road fire station.

Companywide on Monday, H-E-B stores adopted more than 700 fire stations across Texas to honor during the day of service.

Shari Biediger has been covering business and development for the San Antonio Report since 2017. A graduate of St. Mary’s University, she has worked in the corporate and nonprofit worlds in San Antonio...