Pittsburgh police show up at some doorsteps today -- with food

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The holidays haven't been the same for Ida Rozycki since she lost her husband three years ago after he suffered a heart attack while shoveling snow.

While she prepared for her first Thanksgiving alone in 50 years, Ms. Rozycki perused a Green Tree newspaper and found information about free meal delivery on Thanksgiving.

Every year since then, Pittsburgh police officers have come to Ms. Rozycki's Sheraden doorstep on Thanksgiving Day.

It's part of a campaign the police call Stuffed With Love. This year, the officers are expanding their efforts to the North Side and expect to deliver a record 1,598 meals.

"These meals, they do wonders, honey," Ms. Rozycki said. "They just make you feel wonderful."

Pittsburgh police officers -- some on-duty and others off -- will arrive on residents' doorsteps sometime after 8 a.m.

Just about anyone can sign up to receive a meal. There are no formal requirements.

"I don't turn anyone down," said Zone 3 Officer Christine Luffey, who oversees efforts in the South Side and the West End. "If you make that call to me, you need help."

This year, she asked Officer Forrest Hodges, who handles community outreach at the city's Zone 1 station on the North Side, whether he would join her.

"I don't think it took any thought process," he said.

He spoke about the program earlier this month at a monthly meeting for neighborhood groups on the North Side and arranged for the delivery of about 200 meals.

While the police compiled a list of names, members of the Rotary Clubs of District 7300, which covers Allegheny County, solicited donations and volunteers to help cook and package the meals, including help from the local FBI office.

This year, the Three Rivers Casino donated 100 turkeys. Others gave money.

Volunteers began cooking at the Holy Assumption of St. Mary Orthodox Church on the South Side on Saturday and continued through Wednesday evening.

"We're there breaking down turkeys and getting everything prepared so that Thursday morning, it's kind of an assembly line and the police just come in and pick up boxes," said Heather Dieckmann, who helps coordinate the Rotary's efforts.

"It's really become a way for people in the community to give back and volunteer," she said. "All you really have to do is ask and people say, 'Yes.' "

Some of the volunteers will join the officers as they ride around the city today, dropping off turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy.

When they finish visiting the homes on their lists, a small groups of officers and other volunteers will drive to homeless encampments throughout the city and deliver more meals.

This will be the first year Officer Hodges joins them.

"You're going to be tired," Officer Luffey warned him one day last week.

He smiled and replied, "Can't burn me out, kid."

Liz Navratil: lnavratil@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1438 or on Twitter @LizNavratil.

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