The only thing more satisfying than a hearty pancake breakfast is knowing that the money you spent on the meal is going to a good cause. Surely, that was the sentiment felt by those who attended the pancake breakfast at St. David’s Anglican Church in Venetia on Saturday morning. Scores of supporters left the event with full bellies and full hearts, knowing that their money went to a great cause—the James Kuzak Benefit Fund.
Officer James Kuzak, of the Clairton Police Department, was shot in the line of duty on April 4. He was shot multiple times by suspects fleeing the scene of a home invasion, and was taken to UPMC Mercy Hospital in Pittsburgh for emergency treatment.
As soon as the officer was down, supporters swarmed to lift him back up. Within days of the shooting, Dan Burns, a retired officer from the Duquesne Police Department, set up the Support Officer Jim Kuzak website to rally, organize and promote support efforts for Kuzak.
The earliest support came in the form of prayers and blood drive donations, and subsequently in the form of fundraising. To date, at least 10 events have been held to benefit the James Kuzak Benefit Fund. Saturday’s pancake breakfast was the most recent on this list.
The event was spearheaded by Amy Bisignani, long-time friend of Kuzak and wife of Dormont Police Officer Michael Bisignani, who went through police training with Kuzak.
Bisignani explains, “This really hit close to home, so I had to do something.”
And, she definitely did do something. She got together with co-coordinators Peg Smith and Rose Tennent and came up with a plan.
Their plan came to fruition on Saturday morning, when the basement hall of St. David’s crowded with people. Those present enjoyed breakfasts prepared by volunteers using ingredients donated from Restaurant Depot and Weiss Meats. The meals were served by the lovely young ladies of the Peters Township High School Dance Team.
Multiple tables were filled with authentic autographed sports memorabilia, dozens of gift baskets and other appealing items, which were donated for silent auction and raffle at the event.
But, even though the food was yummy and the raffle items were amazing, these things weren’t what took center stage at the event. What took center stage was Kuzak himself.
Kuzak, who served with the Peters Township Police Department for 13 years prior to his Clairton post, was released from the hospital on May 17. He is currently in a wheelchair, as he suffers paralysis in his lower limbs. Kuzak explains, “It took a while, but now the doctors have narrowed down my medications so that I can feel more sensations. I’m ready to work on walking again.”
Kuzak remains optimistic that he will walk again—and, so do his friends. Andy Volchko, who was also instrumental in organizing the pancake breakfast, can relate to some of what Kuzak is going through.
Volchko was injured in the line of duty in 2000. Due to the severity of his injuries and the failure of numerous medical procedures, Volchko lost the use of both of his arms and was told he would never work again, let alone work on the police force.
Thirty-one months after his injury, Volchko went back to work at the Bethel Police Department. After three months of light duty, he returned to full duty on the force, where he has worked for the past eight years.
While Volchko acknowledges that each person and each injury is different, he is committed to standing by his friend throughout his recovery and helping him in any way he can.
Rose Tennent of FM News Talk 104.7 also wants to do whatever she can do for Kuzak, with whom she is friends. That’s why she helped organize the event.
No stranger to philanthropy or fundraising, Tennent said, “I coordinated the event for my friend Jimmy—but, it’s symbolic of what I would do for any other officer, even if I didn’t know him.”
Other highpoints of the breakfast included a performance by musician Todd Jones and the presentation of a prayer shawl to Kuzak. The shawl was made by Audrey Englert, a stranger to Kuzak and member of a prayer shawl knitting group at St. Joan of Arc Church.
When asked what he thought of the event, Kuzak said, “It’s just overwhelming, and so nice to see all this public support. After working (in Peters) for so long, it’s nice to know that I had a positive effect on people and that what I did mattered.”
For details on upcoming events in support of Kuzak and the James Kuzak Benefit Fund, check out the Support Officer Jim Kuzak website, where you can also make a donation, purchase a T-shirt, leave a message for Kuzak and/or email the webmaster for information on how to coordinate your own Kuzak fundraiser/event.