The much awaited Pinellas Hope pizza party was a huge success!
Born from the friendly wager between our very own Bishop Robert N. Lynch and Archbishop Blase Cupinich of the Archdiocese of Chicago, our residents dined on authentic Chicago deep dish pizza donated by the famous Lou Malnati’s pizzeria. The Bishop promised to send Florida citrus to Chicago Catholic Charities St. Leo Residence for homeless veterans IF the Tampa Bay Lightning lost the Stanley Cup series. The Archbishop offered to send famous Lou Malnati’s deep dish pizza to our Pinellas Hope residents if the Chicago Blackhawks lost!
Well, sadly, as we all know, the Lightning lost. However, the Archbishop graciously and generously still sent the pizza for our 300 residents! The pizza (4 types: sausage, cheese, pepperoni, and spinach) was shipped down to Florida pre/half-baked and kept frozen in transit using dry ice. One of our great ‘Friends of Pinellas Hope’, St. Anthony’s Hospital, led by Food and Nutrition Manager, Robert Johnson, and Executive Chef Jim Elbakkali, cooked the pizzas and personally delivered them to our residence. For our part, the Bishop asked Catholic Charities to represent him in sending our Chicago counterparts genuine Florida oranges (literally the last available from this year’s crop) from Boyett’s Citrus Grove in Brooksville. Our Pinellas Hope residents also dined on Florida citrus with their pizza dinner.
After their normal pre-meal prayer, led by Director of Homeless and Veterans Services, Pam Long, who also energized the crowd with her enthusiasm and reminders that hinted at the treat to come, Mark Dufva, Executive Director of Catholic Charities, representing Bishop Lynch, who could not attend, spoke briefly about our agencies’ mission to help end homelessness and our appreciation for the generosity of the people of Chicago. He also thanked the various ‘Friends of Pinellas Hope’ who came in support of our residents; including Pinellas Park Police Department Chief of Police, Michael Haworth and some of his personnel, Mr. Clifford Smith, Manager of Veterans, Social and Homeless Services for the City of St. Petersburg, and our volunteer-guests led by the aforementioned St. Anthony’s Hospital duo of Rob and Jim, and four wonderful representatives from the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Lightning Foundation, Michael, Shannon, and Katie, led by Amanda Puccinelli. Shortly afterward, our residents were served by our Lightning and St. Anthony’s friends and enjoyed the wonderful meal amidst great fellowship!
In the end, a friendly sports wager between Bishops, not only fed 300 deserving people at Pinellas Hope and another 140 veterans at St. Leo’s Residence in Chicago, but also helped to bring attention to the important issue of homelessness in our nation. We at Catholic Charities will continue to work to do our part to fight for everyone to return to full self-sufficiency. But for this night, troubles were put aside, we all talked hockey and pizza, and it was great!