They feel it’s their duty to help the families of fallen law enforcement officers, paramedics and firefighters, and the members of The 200 Club work to make sure the families of these heroes are able to cope financially after their loss.
Whenever there is a law enforcement officer, firefighter or paramedic killed in the line of duty, The 200 Club gives the family a sum of money to take care of immediate needs and arrange to pay all family debts including credit card bills and home mortgages. The group also sends treasury bonds to the children and puts them through college, pays for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners and sends the widow red roses on Mother’s Day.
"We do this because we believe the first responders put their lives on the line protecting us everyday," said Tak Argentinis, president and one of the founders of the organization. "These are extraordinary people, and when they die protecting us we have a moral responsibility to take care of their families."
The 200 Club’s services were unfortunately needed last December when an auto accident claimed the life of Sgt. Mike Larson of the Bryan County Sheriff’s Department. He was responding to a call when he struck an abandoned car in the middle of the highway.
Toby Roberts, a 200 Club member and member of the Bryan County Board of Commissioners, was there when Larson’s widow, Lisa, was presented with a check from the organization.
"I had the unfortunate privilege, along with (board member) Ben MacMillan, Tak Argentinis and Sheriff Clyde Smith, of being present when we gave (Larson’s) widow the check," Roberts said. "It was a very, very emotional event. I hated to be a part of it but it was good to experience what we do first hand. Of all those that were with us, there wasn’t a dry eye in the room."
Roberts said his membership on The 200 Club is one he takes pride in.
"It’s a good feeling to be part of an organization that looks out for the family of those that look out for us," he said. "I wish more people would join." He said the annual member dues are very reasonable and anyone is eligible to join.
MacMillan, who has been a member ever since he learned of the group about four years ago, said the fulfillment of helping people is the best part about being a member of the group.
"This group means everything to me and my wife both," he said. "These people put their lives on the lines for us, and anything we can do to help them is well worth it."
He said being there when the group first met with Officer Larson’s widow.
"I wish that on nobody," he said. It was a tough situation for everyone."
Besides helping the families of those killed in the line of duty, Argentinis said the organization also helps those who are severely injured until they are able to return to work.
Since it started in May 2001, the 268-member group has helped 22 families in the 20 counties in the coastal area. They’ve given a total of $250,000 so far.
Last year The 200 Club started presenting one firefighter and one law enforcement officer a Valor Award to honor their service. The recipients receive a plaque, a medal and a check for $5,000. This award is given at the group’s annual meeting held in February.
Though the group typically operates in a low-key manner, especially to protect the privacy of its beneficiaries, Roberts said there is some desire from members that the group become more well-known in the area as to bring in more members.
"One of the reasons it’s kept quiet is so that people don’t try and come in and weasel money out of a widow," Roberts said. "But we want to make it a little more known so that more people will join. We want to be more visible in the community as far as what we do in the community."
Argentinis said all members of The 200 Club share a common ideology.
"All of us feel the same way," he said. "Out motto is that we care for those who care for us, and we ask for nothing in return."
The 200 Club will hold a membership drive at the Fort McAllister Marina on Monday, April 2 from 6 p.m. until 8 p.m.
For more information on the group, visit their web site at www.twohundredclub.org.