Cars were lined up around the block at St. John Fisher Elementary School.

Even though the pandemic stopped 19th Ward Ald. Matt O’Shea’s seventh annual Get Behind the Vest Pancake Breakfast from being served in person, it didn’t stop the community from supporting the neighborhood tradition en masse.

The breakfast raises funds for the Chicago Police Memorial Foundation (CPMF) campaign to purchase new protective vests for officers. This year, it operated on a pickup and delivery basis on March 21.

O’Shea said over 1,000 orders were received, and he was grateful to see, as he put it, “cars backed up for blocks” to get their pancakes.

“It’s heartwarming to know that people across my community feel it’s important to show their support, with a small gesture like donating $20 for a pancake breakfast,” O’Shea said. “I would hope, and I have to believe, it means something to our officers, who have such an unbelievably difficult job. Just to know that they’re coming out in force today, it’s heartwarming. I’m proud of our community.”

Cars lined up on the east side of the school to pick up meals and the west side to deliver meals.

Gold Star families, who have lost officers in the line of duty, were among the hundreds of supporters who benefitted from the deliveries.

The CPMF started Get Behind the Vest in late 2014 and has raised over $4.6 million to purchase 11,000 new vests.

O’Shea’s breakfast had raised about $200,000 heading into this year.

Officers receive their first vests for free but must pay out of pocket for replacements, which cost about $500. Vests need to be replaced every five years.

This year’s breakfast arrived at a tragic time for the Chicago Police Department (CPD), as two officers recently took their own lives, and three were shot or shot at.

“What an unbelievably dangerous job they have day in and day out,” O’Shea said. “[The breakfast] is just a small thing that we can do in the 19th Ward. Now, more than ever, I think it’s really important to show our support for the men and women of the Chicago Police Department; each and every day, they’re out protecting us.”

As in years past, The Original Pancake House-Beverly supplied all the ingredients and supplies for the breakfast, with members of the St. John Fisher Holy Name Society cooking the pancakes that morning. Each order contained breakfast for two, including sausage and condiments.

Several officers attended, as did CPD Supt. David Brown, who flipped a few pancakes as well.

He said 20 officers have been shot or shot at this year.

“I would just ask all of you to pray for our police officers’ general safety,” he said. “Thank goodness for the [CPMF] and Ald. O’Shea for their efforts in, No. 1, conveying they support the police, but also fundraising, so that they can be equipped with ballistic bulletproof vests.”

Last year, the breakfast was held in late February, just before the pandemic caused the entire city and the world to shut down.

Restrictions have been loosened in recent months, providing hope that large in-person events can resume soon.

O’Shea was still happy the breakfast could be held in any form.

“Not being able to have everybody here in the school hall—we’re hopeful for that next year,” he said. “But, we thought it was important that we continue to have this event raising important dollars to protect our officers.”

For information on Get Behind the Vest, visit the CPMF website at cpdmemorial.org.