Pa. man organizes Thanksgiving meals for local police, EMS

This will be the 10th year running that resident Dave Johnson has organized a meal for first responders working on Turkey Day

By Michael DiVittorio
The Tribune-Review, Greensburg

GREENSBURG, Pa. — While folks around the country spend time with family and friends this Thanksgiving, even through altered plans during the covid-19 pandemic, many emergency responders will celebrate the holiday working.

Some might eat snacks from a convenience store as turkey and stuffing is served to those whom police and EMS workers have sworn to protect.

It is images of those types of situations that inspired Plum resident Dave Johnson to ensure his borough officers and paramedics get the type of meal they deserve on Thanksgiving day. This year marks a decade of his tradition.

"Both emergency services are here to perform a duty and are here 24/7," Johnson said. "It's my honor to do it. These guys are a staple to the community. Doing something small like that really means a lot. I look forward to it every year."

Johnson, principal of D. Johnson Insurance Agency in Penn Hills, bought the meals from Nathan's Catering in Penn Hills the past nine years.

He plans to go with Pugliano's Italian Grill in Plum since his Nathan's connection has retired.

Plum EMS Operations Director Brian Maloney said the meal is much appreciated, as at least four people will be working 16-hour shifts on the holiday.

"Our folks work pretty much all day, so they will not be around their loved ones," he said. "No celebration whatsoever in that regard. It is one of those things, especially (people) who work a normal Thursday, work every Thanksgiving.

"A little gratitude like that goes quite a long ways. This can be a very noble job, but at times you may feel less appreciated until a little generosity or something like this (comes) in. Not saying we have to get dinners all the time, but these folks deal with a very stressful job. Especially with the covid pandemic and spike in numbers."

Police Chief Lanny Conley has worked his share of Thanksgiving shifts throughout his career.

The longtime law enforcement official said his officers have responded to a variety of calls during the holiday from domestic situations to robberies and fatal crashes.

"You never know what you're going to run into," Conley said. "You can be having a quiet shift and all of a sudden you're in a bad domestic. I love my profession, but that was always one of the downsides."

This holiday could be packed with more unknowns than ever before due to the pandemic, which makes Johnson and people like him a welcomed visitor at the police station.

"It's been a very tenuous year," the chief said. "This 2020 with everything going on, it really boosts the moral of the police department to have the community show such support of our local police. It really touches the guys' hearts."

Conley graduated from Penn Hills in 1983, a year after Johnson.

"The meetings that I've had with Dave over the years have been great," Conley said. "He has always been there for the department. He goes out of his way to do something nice for us."

Johnson is one of many Plum residents who provide food for the borough's first responders throughout the year.

"I believe it's more of a family atmosphere," Johnson said of the borough. "Plum may be one of the largest in miles of all of Allegheny County. However, it's still that small town. We take care of each other. I think it's a great reflection of everybody who does things and takes care of their own."

Johnson also purchased pizza for all 32 ambulance companies in Allegheny County as well as sandwiches for a hospital among other donations.

(c)2020 The Tribune-Review (Greensburg, Pa.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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