CHICAGO, IL – Police supporters in the thousands packed the basement of a local church Sunday morning to raise money and help buy new bullet proof vests for Chicago police officers. A pancake breakfast event lasted for hours at St. John Fisher Catholic Church’s Kane Hall as money came in to support not only the Chicago Police Memorial Foundation’s "Get Behind the Vest" initiative it was set up for, but for the family of recently fallen Police Department Commander Paul Bauer as well.
"It never ceases to amaze me the support we get here in the 22nd District," Chicago Police Department 22nd District Commander Mark Harmon said. "No other community supports us more than they do here."
Ald. Matt O’Shea of the 19th Ward is the creator of the "Get Behind the Vest" pancake breakfast, having now organized them yearly since 2015. Scroll through the top of this story for a photo gallery from the event.
"It is amazing how this event has grown over the past four years, and we hope to raise even more money this year," O’Shea said before Sunday’s event brought in about 3,000 people from 8 a.m. until noon. Organizers say more than 10,000 pancakes were served during that time.
"It’s always a good turnout but this year has been the best," Harmon said.
Individuals paid $5 to get in and families $25. Once inside, visitors were served pancakes, sausages, orange juice and coffee by several community volunteers. Raffle tickets were sold and money was raised for both the 19th Ward Youth Foundation and the Paul Bauer Memorial Fund.
While the event was expecting record numbers anyway, the outpouring of support was amplified with it being held at the end of a tragic week in which Bauer, Police Commander of the 18th District, was shot and killed by a fleeing suspect in The Loop. Just one day earlier, many of the people inside the St. John Fisher basement were lined out on 111th Street paying tribute to Bauer during the funeral procession that passed through the Morgan Park, Beverly and Mount Greenwood neighborhoods of the 19th Ward.
Not many can relate to the sadness associated with the Bauer family in the days after an in-the-line-of-duty death, but at least one man who was on hand Sunday morning can.
Brian Flisk is the son of fallen Chicago Police Officer Michael Flisk, who was killed in the line of duty in 2010. He said the Chicago Police Department has been extremely supportive of his family and that attending events like these is a way to give back.
"It is so important to support this," he said.
The Chicago Police Memorial Foundation’s "Get Behind the Vest" initiative seeks to raise money to buy new bullet proof vests for police officers. Vests should be replaced at least once every five years and may be necessary in a much shorter period of time because just one bullet can permanently damage a vest.
"It’s hugely important," Harmon said of efforts to fully equip officers with vests. "The safety of officers and the community is the most paramount issue, and something we are always concerned about."
The pancake breakfast was the signature event associated with raising money for the cause this year. The total raised from the complete fundraising effort won’t be known for about another week as neighborhood schools continue to raise money. Last year, $26,000 was raised in the effort and indications are that the number will sharply rise this year.
Local businesses have also provided support. The Original Pancake House sponsored Sunday’s breakfast and the Kean Bros Gas Station donated a portion of all their gas sales from the entire week. O’Shea himself pumped gas for customers at the 111th Street station Friday afternoon to help add to the total.
A Chicago firefighter summed it up best on why he wanted to volunteer for the cause on a winter Sunday morning.
"This is the best neighborhood in the city," he said.
Photos by Tim Moran / Patch