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'He was very patriotic': First responders honor fallen officer with July Fourth blood drive

Charlie Kondek's family hosted a blood drive in his honor on what would have been his 50th birthday.

TARPON SPRINGS, Fla. — It's never easy losing a loved one, but one local family has been able to turn their grief into something helpful for the community. 

On December 21, 2014, Tarpon Springs Police Officer Charles Kondek, Jr. was shot and killed in the line of duty. He left behind a wife and five children.

Original story: Tarpon Springs remembers fallen officer

On what would have been Charlie's 50th birthday, his wife, Teresa, hosted a blood drive in his honor.

Credit: Samantha Mitchell, WTSP

"He was very patriotic and the Fourth of July was his birthday, so it was perfect," said Larry Bird, a fellow first responder and friend of Charlie. "He loved his country, he loved the Fourth of July, so putting the two together, it's pretty cool." 

Larry said the family started hosting an annual memorial blood drive through OneBlood to honor Charlie's memory and to help give other patients and their families in the community second chances.

"He donated blood regularly and taught our kids to donate blood at an early age too," Teresa said. "We wanted to do something positive for his birthday and this was a great idea. It's celebrating his life, it's giving back, so it means a lot to us for every single person that comes out."

She added that it was perfect that the blood drive was hosted at the Tarpon Springs Police Department and fire rescue since it was Charlie's home away from home. 

It's exactly why first responders placed his permanent memorial at the police station and fire department. 

"This is family," Teresa said of the first responders gathered at the memorial blood drive. 

Community members and even fully uniformed police officers and first responders took the time to pause and donate their own blood, all braving the summer heat. 

Credit: WTSP

Charlie's daughter and son also came to honor his memory and donate blood for the cause. Charlie's son, Andrew Kondek, who joined the police force in his honor, brought his rolling, 'souped up' truck memorial along with him. 

The truck itself was custom-made with his father in mind. The motor, transmission, and drivetrain is from his father's favorite car that he was never able to own. The interior is black and blue, and his father's folded flag is molded into the rear speaker box.

Related: Son of Tarpon Springs police officer killed in the line of duty enters police academy in his memory

Andrew and first responders weren't the only ones there to honor his memory through the drive. 

Off-Road United brought what they said was their largest blue line flag, which was hoisted during the blood drive by the Tarpon Springs Fire Department. The nonprofit organization works with military, fire, police, and EMT's to bridge the gap between law enforcement and the communities through events like Krawl'N For the Fallen.

Credit: WTSP

As far as the blood drive goes, Teresa said she is hopeful it will grow and only get bigger and bigger every year. 

"It's saving lives and celebrating his birthday, so we're happy about it," Teresa said. 

To learn more about Charlie's story and how to contribute to the family's cause, click here for the family's website.  

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