KNIGHTDALE, N.C. (WNCN) – In less than a week, Allen Williford will put his kayak in the water. He won’t be alone. He will be joined by friends and his 15-year-old daughter.
They’re all paddling to support first responders and to honor firefighters who died from COVID-19.
“So, 2013, I had the bright idea to want to paddle the whole Neuse River,” Williford said. “We do it in roughly four days.”
They will paddle exactly 193 miles down the Neuse River in Raleigh to New Bern for a good cause.
“Paddling for Pennies. Give us a penny per mile. So, it’s $1.93. That’s all we ask people to donate,” Williford said. “The reason we do it, being first responders ourselves, we see the issues that are going on. Police or fire or paramedics. But also, our military. We donate to our veterans and our acting military.”
For eight years, Paddling for Pennies has been helping families in need. However, this year, is different for the Knightdale Fire Captain.
“One night my wife said, ‘You know what the 22nd is.’ Like, yeah, it’s Wednesday. That’s when we are leaving. She said, ‘No, that’s the day Jason passed,’” Williford said.
Jason Dean was a Clayton firefighter who passed away last year after battling COVID-19. Allen plans to honor him this year and start his trip a year to the day that Dean died.
“It kind of hits home. It’s a real special year, for that personal reason, to honor his name,” he said.
He will also honor another friend and fellow firefighter.
“Unfortunately, we lost another good friend, Steven Smith, to COVID-19 last week,” Williford said.
Across the country, many first responders are dying from the virus.
The Officer Down Memorial Page reports 163 law enforcement officers have died so far this year from COVID-19.
“It hits home. It is what’s hitting us right now, and it’s just another way we are trying to take care of each other in hard times,” Williford said.