Robin Sorenson knows firsthand the dangers public safety officers face as they head out to work each day.
That’s why the former firefighter and his brother, Chris Sorenson, also a former firefighter, created Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation as an outreach of the restaurant chain they founded.
On Wednesday, Robin Sorenson presented 34 bulletproof vests – worth nearly $20,000 – to the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office on behalf of the foundation.
Sixty to 65 percent of the money used to purchase the vests came from in-store fundraisers such as canisters on registers where customers can donate their spare change or the round-up program, which allows customers to round their bill up to the nearest dollar. The difference is donated to the foundation. Each store also sells leftover five-gallon pickle buckets for $2 each to raise money for the foundation.
The remaining funds came from donations by vendors, franchisees and donations from the Sorensons.
“It is a lot, when you’re talking about $20,000 for 34 vests,” Sheriff Ronnie Strength said. “At times, we get donations from folks of one vest or two vests. This is absolutely a first.”
He said the department has more than 500 vests that have a five-year lifespan. Every year the department purchases vests to rotate out old ones.
Budget cuts make it difficult to buy vests, and that’s why the Sorensons created the foundation – to help departments purchase equipment they need but can’t afford.
“I understand what it means to them. For my brother and I who started the company, it’s been like icing on the cake for us (to help),” Sorenson said. “Somebody in our office coined the phrase that the foundation is the heart of Firehouse Subs. That’s exactly what it is.”
Sorenson said the death last year of Richmond County sheriff’s Deputy J.D. Paugh “was definitely what started this whole idea of doing the donation to the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office.”
Paugh was shot and killed Oct. 23 when he stopped to investigate a car on the side of Bobby Jones Expressway. The shooter, Christopher Michael Hodges, then killed himself.
A representative of Firehouse Subs heard about the incident and contacted the sheriff’s office, Sorenson said.
Firehouse Subs, which now has 542 restaurants, has donated more than $5.2 million to public safety organizations across the country.