A police officer’s job is to protect and serve the public.
Multiple Penn Hills officers recently did more of the latter at Mohan’s Restaurant as part of the department’s fourth annual Tips for Cops fundraiser for local food pantries.
The parking lot and booths at 7324 Saltsburg Road were packed Tuesday night as hundreds poured in to support the effort coordinated by Officer Lindsey Bigger. Off-duty officers took orders, served customers and even police Chief Howard Burton bused tables.
“It’s a great turnout tonight,” Burton said. “We’ve had support from the public that you wouldn’t believe. With all the negativity you hear about with police, supposedly, our community really comes forward and supplies all these people to come in and spend their money eating here and giving great tips to police.”
Bigger said she got the idea for the fundraiser from White Oak Sgt. Jessica Hetherington, who launched her department’s Tips for Cops years ago at Twin Oaks Lounge. Hetherington volunteered to run Penn Hills’ Chinese auction.
Proceeds from 50/50 raffles, the auction, food sales and tips were all counted toward the donations.
About $18,000 was raised for food banks, including Lincoln Park Community Center and the Penn Hills Service Association, heading into this year’s event.
Crystal Uebele of Penn Hills ate a grilled chicken salad in support of a family friend, Penn Hills Officer Amanda Duncan.
“She’s my sister’s best friend,” Uebele said. “It was enjoyable. It’s really to help out Penn Hills and the food banks. I’ve never come before, so this was fun. We came in at a busy time and (Duncan) did well (as a waitress). I didn’t wait that long (for the food).”
Duncan served many tables throughout the evening.
“This is my hometown,” she said. “I’ve been doing it for four years. It’s a great event and I look forward to it every year.”
Waitress Heidi Kosmal served at the restaurant for the past 16 years. She was impressed with how well the officers worked.
“They’re very good,” Kosmal said. “They know where the drinks are and what to pour. Some even ran the register.”
Mohan’s is known throughout the area for its chicken, but Anna Bayne of Arnold went with pizza and fried pickles.
“I loved it,” Bayne said. “I have friends on the force. (It’s) a good atmosphere. A lot of people making money. I love it here.”
Bayne said events like Tips for Cops allow people to get to know officers in nonemergency settings.
“It makes it personable,” she said. “It’s contact with civilians and cops, and it puts it in a comfortable atmosphere. Sometimes you don’t ever come across them because you don’t get pulled over or anything. It’s a good way to interact and meet the cops that we don’t know.”
People also came from West Deer, East Deer, White Oak and beyond to participate.
Bigger said it takes a lot of effort to get everyone on the same page and coordinate schedules to make Tips for Cops a success.
“Sometimes we have more officers than other years,” she said. “It really revolves around what people are doing … My good friend is the deejay. She volunteers every year. We have a couple of spouses that will help us out, also. Since this is the fourth year, it went off without a hitch. I know what I need to bring. I know what supplies I need to have, tickets, setting up the auction. It ran smoothly this year. A lot of anticipation and a little bit of stress, but it’s not too bad.”
Mohan’s General Manager Cheryl Szarmach said the event’s been a pleasant surprise from what she originally expected.
“The first year it was brought to my attention, I didn’t see it working,” she said. “I didn’t think our servers would be up for it. I didn’t think anyone would say, ‘Hey. I want to give up our tips.’ But I had a unanimously vote instantaneously. Everybody was like, ‘Yeah. This is great. Let’s do it.’
“Year four, it’s as crazy as ever. It’s as busy as ever … Every year we try to learn from the previous year. Every year we try to be more organized. Every year it’s crazy. I call it organized chaos. Part of the fun is the organized chaos … Overall, they do a great great job. It’s kind of impressive to see them jump in. This has been a great time. It’s a great cause, and we look forward to doing it again.”