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Holiday feast given with measure of love

Gentle knocks went unanswered at some doors Thursday morning, so Officer Christine Luffey was forced to use her “police knock” — a pounding fist.

“Pittsburgh police,” Luffey announced as she banged the door.

Hardly the Thanksgiving greeting most would want on a rainy morning. Unless, of course, it was from officers like Luffey and other volunteers who delivered 1,078 free meals ordered by people throughout the city.

“It’s very nice, especially for people who have nobody or who are alone,” said Warren Flick, 71, of Mt. Washington.

This was the second year Flick received a meal through the “Get Stuffed with Love” campaign, in which the owners of Tom’s Diner and Folino’s Restaurant in the South Side provide the free meals.

Penny Folino said she cooked up more than 40 turkeys this year — her ninth providing Thanksgiving meals to neighbors in the South Side and two dozen surrounding communities, including Beechview, Brookline and Duquesne Heights.

“The meals are free and delicious,” said Luffey, a Zone 3 officer who coordinates the program for police. “If you want a meal, we’re going to bring you one. We don’t want anyone to be hungry, especially on Thanksgiving.”

The program was expanded this year to include North Side neighborhoods, Folino said. Officers delivered the meals in squad cars, vans and other vehicles.

“There’s a very, very high demand this year,” Folino said. “We expect this to be the busiest year.”

Donald Mitchell Jr., an officer in Zone 6 in the West End, said he got involved “purely by accident” two years ago and has stuck with it.

“It was so much fun, and I got so much out of it because I was helping so many people,” Mitchell said. “You can see the happiness in their faces that someone does care during the holidays. For some people, it gets really lonely at that time.”

Flick said Thanksgiving doesn’t feel special without a meal and family. He planned to eat his dinner when his ex-wife, a retired police officer, visited him later in the day.

His neighbor, Lou Giglio, opted for a day of solitude and television to accompany his free meal.

“Normally, I go to family, but this year I decided I’m going to stay home, watch some football and drink some beer,” said Giglio, 65.

The meal means a lot to people, he said.

“I know a lot of people can’t get out,” he said. “A lot of the elderly and all that.”

During the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, Luffey said she came to work to find 60 messages a morning from people requesting meals.

“It truly is a lot of work, but it’s very, very rewarding on Thanksgiving Day,” she said. “It’s a day I can come home and say, ‘I made people happy the entire day.’ ”

Folino takes donations to whip up feasts of turkey, mashed potatoes with gravy, corn or green beans, stuffing, cranberry sauce, a slice of pie and a roll baked fresh yesterday morning by BreadWorks in the North Side.

Folino said she’s surprised by how much people give back and volunteer.

“After you do it one time, you feel so much better about yourself and what you have sitting down to that meal with your family,” she said. “It gets me a little teary.”


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