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McKeesport police Sgt. Francis Angert hugs Diane Elias, owner of Di's Kornerstone Diner, as members of the McKeesport Area Ministerium present officers with gift cards Tuesday as a token of appreciation. Tube City Almanac photo.
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McKeesport-area religious leaders yesterday greeted city police officers as they began their shifts to thank them for their service, and to buy them a meal.
With cooperation from Di's Kornerstone Diner in Olympia Shopping Center, the McKeesport Area Ministerium provided $15 gift cards to all 55 full-time and part-time McKeesport police officers. They also visited police officers during roll call at 7 a.m., 3 p.m. and 11 p.m. Tuesday.
The spontaneous act of kindness was a reaction to the shootings of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, La., and heightened tensions between the public and law enforcement.
"Although you may not be told this very often, people really do appreciate what you do," Salvation Army Lt. John Esker Jr. told police before they started their afternoon shift, "and we're here to say thank you."
Ministerium leaders shook hands and, in some cases, hugged police officers as they left for patrol. Participants included Esker; Rev. Earlene Coleman, pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church; Boniface Igba, spiritual director of Auberle; Gladys Hunt-Mason of the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh; the Rev. Peter Giacalone of the Rainbow Temple Assembly of God; and Marty Smith, a retired pastor formerly with the McKeesport Alliance Church.
Giacalone and others said the idea to purchase the gift cards came when members of the ministerium, a non-denominational network of local churches and religious organizations, were having breakfast at Di's. The group was considering possible responses to the wave of violence directed at law-enforcement officers in the wake of several high profile police-involved shootings captured on video and shared on social media.
After discussing the problem with Diane Elias, owner of the restaurant, they decided to work with her to provide a free meal at Di's, because it's a favorite breakfast and lunch spot for local police officers, Hunt-Mason said.
Esker said that as the leader of the Salvation Army's McKeesport Corps, he understands some of the problems that local police are dealing with, including people with drug, alcohol and mental-health issues that put them into conflict with the criminal justice system.
"We see first hand some of the challenges you guys face," he said. "They walk through our doors on a daily basis. And we know you and your families both face these challenges together."
Police officers joked that the laughing, smiling pastors and priests who invaded their squad room yesterday made up "the happiest group of people we've ever had in this station."
The effort was "greatly appreciated," McKeesport police Chief Bryan Washowich said last night. "The words of encouragement go a long way."
Originally published July 20, 2016.