Bucs players buy 400 pizzas for hospital staff

March 23rd, 2020

PITTSBURGH -- Not long after Spring Training was suspended nearly two weeks ago, the Pirates players’ text thread started buzzing with ideas. They wanted to support hospital workers overwhelmed and overworked amid the coronavirus pandemic. They wanted to buoy local businesses that might be impacted by shutdowns and social distancing.

They wanted to help Pittsburgh, even if they weren’t there.

That led them to the plan they executed on Monday. Pirates players purchased more than 400 pizzas plus pasta from Slice on Broadway (located at PNC Park) and Pizzeria Davide (in the Strip District) and had lunch delivered, with help from Pirates employees, to the staff at Allegheny General Hospital.

“We might not be in Pittsburgh, and we don’t have the opportunity to play in front of our fans and for all of us to be up in the city that’s kind of become a second home to us and that’s treated us so well,” Pirates player representative Jameson Taillon said. “We know local businesses are getting crushed and they’re really hurting and they’re really affected by what’s going on. Then obviously, the hospitals and the staff working on the front lines there, they’re putting in extra hours, extra work, exposing themselves.

“We thought this was a way to help. Two birds with one stone. We can help local restaurants. We can help the hospitals and the workers and show our appreciation.”

Rico Lunardi, the owner of Slice on Broadway, heard about the plan on Friday. That gave him time to prepare the 300 pizzas he and his staff made at the popular pizzeria on Federal Street -- an order nearly double the size of anything they’d previously received there.

The players’ purchase, Lunardi said, will allow him to keep his entire staff working for a week.

“Of course, we wanted to help everyone we can in the process,” Lunardi said. “Obviously, the Pirates and the players are awesome to want to be able to do this and reach out to help as many people as they can. Helping us out, I was able to keep my staff all working down here. More importantly, the bigger picture is helping feed everyone at the hospital that’s putting in countless hours trying to get through all this together.”

For that reason, Pirates players decided to team up with Pizzeria Davide -- which Taillon said has been “really welcoming” to players throughout his years in Pittsburgh -- and Slice on Broadway.

“It was one of those things that we didn’t have to talk about for too long. We started throwing the idea around, and everyone got excited and made it happen,” Taillon said. “Everyone was just like, ‘Let’s all put our money together and come up with something.’ They just wanted to get something done to help out.”

Lunardi said his staff of roughly 10 people got to work early making dough and sauce and shredding cheese. Two people were charged with preparing the pizzas, two with monitoring the ovens, two with boxing and cutting the pies, and two with delivering them to the staff at Allegheny General Hospital. Just to be safe, they made 320 dough balls in advance.

“I’m like, ‘All right, we can only mess up 20 pizzas,’” Lunardi said, laughing. “And I think we only messed up three, which is good.”

Their first order, sent out at 11 a.m., was 134 pizzas. Since the drivers couldn’t go inside, they helped staff load up the boxes on carts and wheelchairs. Taillon said they staggered the delivery times to include staff on different shifts, so the last order went out just after 1 p.m. Pirates employees stepped in to help distribute the order from Pizzeria Davide.

“We would’ve needed like an 18-wheeler to have one person deliver it all,” Taillon joked.

Taillon said Pittsburgh’s players will continue to support local businesses and first responders however they can through this national emergency. They’ve talked about buying a day’s worth of takeout lunches somewhere. They’ve already looked into ways they can involve two player favorites -- Driftwood Oven, another pizzeria, and Commonplace Coffee -- and set up deliveries to local police and fire stations.

“We’re trying to be creative and just help out any way we can,” Taillon said.