Chef, teacher say thank you to New London police with fresh-made pizza
New London — When Chef Tomm Johnson first saw on TV three weeks ago that someone had opened fire on police officers in Dallas, one thought wouldn’t leave his mind.
“Oh my gosh,” Johnson said, recalling his reaction to the attack that left five officers dead. “How can that happen?”
Johnson, a culinary arts instructor at New London High School, responded in the best way he knew how: On Thursday, he worked with Charles Mulligan — a teacher of marine and environmental sciences at the Science and Technology High School of Southeastern Connecticut — to whip up enough pizza to feed the entire New London Police Department, support staff included.
Using an outdoor wood-fired oven and ingredients like basil from the nearby garden plots of the relatively new Whaler Café Garden amphitheater, Johnson concocted pepperoni, tomato and other pizzas in the 80-degree heat.
"For some reason, people have been turning (police) into bad guys instead of good guys," Johnson said. "But our department works with us well. We do all kinds of (joint) fundraisers to help kids in the community."
"I want them to know from us that we still appreciate all the work that they do," he said.
About five officers showed up to the amphitheater just after 11 a.m. Thursday, where students from a summertime farm-to-table sustainability course — they helped make the dough, Mulligan explained — were on hand.
Surrounded by garden beds with flourishing crops, the officers gobbled down slices, eking out words like “outstanding” and “delicious” in between mouthfuls.
Then they soldiered back to the station, pizza boxes in hand, so other New London police staffers could get in on the feast.
“It’s a hard time to be a police officer right now,” said Max Bertsch, the longtime New London school resource officer. “It’s really nice to know that people support us and what we do, because we’re out here to help people in the community — that’s why we took this job.”
The pizza giveaway came on the same day a Blue Lives Matter rally was supposed to be held in the city.
Lori Hopkins-Cavanagh, founder of the American Liberty Center and organizer of the rally, said she canceled the event because of a flood of negative and inflammatory comments she received from what she called “anti-police groups."
“I don’t want to conduct a rally that is supposed to be positive amidst a ruckus and a circus,” she told The Day on Tuesday.
It also came amid a region-wide outpouring of support for police from the community.
In the days since the Dallas attack, residents and businesses have baked cakes, donated flowers, written poems and offered free meals in an attempt to show solidarity with police — a movement that seems only to have been bolstered by the Sunday shooting death of three officers in Baton Rouge.
On Friday, Heather Somers, a Republican politician who’s campaigning for state senator in the 18th District, will visit every police department in the district to express her thanks.
She, too, will be presenting officers with pizza as a “small token of her support,” according to Jon Conradi, who works for her campaign.
Bertsch said all of the support is appreciated and added that he wants to extend a special thank you to the students involved in making Thursday’s pizzas.
“I work with the students every day,” he said. “I know how great the kids are at New London High School and the magnet science center. This is just another example.”