The 200 Club of the Coastal Empire will celebrate its seventh anniversary this year and is still going strong, having helped more than two dozen families in the coastal region since its conception.
The 200 Club is part on a nationwide effort. More than 120 individual ‘hundred’ organizations throughout the country have been established to provide help to those who have lost a spouse in the line of duty.
"We provide immediate, significant financial assistance to families of fallen officers and fire fighters who are killed in the line of duty," said 200 Club President Tak Argentinis, whose son was a police officer killed in the line of duty.
The concept of the clubs started in Detroit in 1952 after a police officer was fatally shot while on the job. In 2001, the 200 Club for the local area was started by Argentinis, Brooks Stillwell and Harry Haslam.
"First responders put their lives on the line every time they put on the uniform. And sometimes they sacrifice it, protecting all of us," Argentinis said. "We feel, when they die in the line of duty, we as businessmen have a moral obligation to ensure that no one forecloses on their families. We want to make sure the financial tragedy is not as deep or long lasting as their personal one. The 200 Club is the best vehicle for expressing community gratitude to the families of those volunteers. We do that the best way we know how, through money. We ask for nothing in return."
The club operates in 20 different counties, spanning from the Florida line to Bluffton and Jasper, S.C.
Within one week of the tragedy of a fallen officer or fire fighter, the club meets with the surviving spouse and provides $10,000 for the immediate expenses. Two weeks later, they meet the spouse again to see copies of mortgages, loans and credit cards debts – and pay them all off.
Every year after that, they provide a savings bond for each child’s birthday and Christmas until they reach the age of 18. They send checks for major holiday dinners and red roses on Mother’s Day. Once the children turn 18, the club pays for their complete college education.
"We estimate the lifetime cost per family is about $160,000. We started in May of 2001 and since that time, we have responded 26 times with a little over $325,000," he said.
Included in those 26 responses was the family of Sgt. Michael W. Larsen, who gave his life in the line of duty as a deputy for Bryan County in 2006.
The organization is made up completely of volunteers and they have a non-solicitation policy. Expenses are donated by members – they currently have 333 – and are occasionally gotten through fundraisers. Membership is open to anyone, starting at $250 per year, going up in status to a platinum level member who’s initial dues are $10,000 and $1,000 each year after that. In return for the dues, Argentines mails members the thank you letters he receives from mothers, small children and college students. He said their gratitude is what makes the club so worthwhile.
See video from Argentinis' talk at the Rotary club lunch on Thursday, Jan. 31.