Mister Rogers-themed dinner event to benefit Children’s Hospital

Latrobe native Fred McFeely Rogers (1928-2003) and his Neighborhood Trolley.

May 22 is the 143rd day of the year and the second annual 1-4-3 Day In PA.

That means that Friday calls for celebrating acts of kindness in the spirit of Fred Rogers. The special day was proclaimed last year by Gov. Tom Wolf in recognition of the Pennsylvania community that stretches from Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love, to Latrobe, hometown of Mister Rogers, America’s most beloved neighbor.

The 1-4-3 designation is code for “I love you,” based on the number of letters in each word. Rogers spelled it out to the children who watched his long-running “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” on PBS.

“We launched 1-4-3 Day as a statewide day of kindness in his honor,” said Carrie Lepore, deputy secretary for marketing, tourism and film in the state Department of Community and Economic Development. “Last year, Pennsylvanians shared 17,000 acts of kindness on social media. I think now, more than ever, we truly have an opportunity to show kindness not just to our loved ones, but to all the essential people who are keeping us safe, keeping us fed and who are teaching our children. Now more than ever we need to show our appreciation and our kindness towards our neighbors and everyone.”

Rogers was born and raised in Latrobe and lived most of his adult life in Pittsburgh where he also had his television recording studio.

Both the Latrobe Art Center and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra will kick off their celebrations Friday morning.

There are no formal plans by the City of Latrobe because, said community service officer Beth Straka, “It’s been like 1-4-3 Kindness Day every day in Latrobe ever since the pandemic started. Everyone wants to help, and it’s been amazing.”

Fred Rogers would be pleased with all the helpers. When bad things happen, he told his viewers, “Look for the helpers.”

At 9 a.m. Friday, 30 members of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra will broadcast their performance of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood theme song, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” The recording will remain on pittsburghsymphony.org and on its Facebook page.

“Since the pandemic began, many arts organizations are working together and talking about how they can respond to this with online connections,” said communications director Julie Goepz. “We’ll be connecting with the community and with how organizations are showing neighborliness and kindness.”

The Latrobe Art Center is home of the annual Mister Fred Rogers Fine Arts Juried Exhibition. They’ll have a digital greeting card available on Friday on its Facebook page and website (latrobeartcenter.org). It will feature a picture of Rogers and a message about kindness.

“People can send it to family and friends,” director Lauren Buches said.

They’re also inviting people to turn their acts of kindness — both given and received — into art that will be shared through the summer.

It goes like this: Draw, paint or in other ways create a piece of art or a photograph depicting good deeds that happen not only on Friday, but in the months to come.

“Email them, mail them or drop them off at the gallery and we’ll post them on our website, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram,” Buches said. “We’ll print them out or scan them and display them in the art center. We can do this probably for the rest of the summer.”

Weather permitting on Friday, they’ll decorate the bench and life size bronze statue of Rogers at the adjacent James H. Rogers Memorial Park.

Straka has witnessed and been part of many recent acts of kindness. People drop off meals to city workers, the police department and first responders. The school district provided lunches for students who were missing free and reduced lunches.

“They went above and beyond and contacted anybody they knew, like Eat’n Park, to partner with them,” she said.

There were three recent food projects. Straka was involved with one that provided those students’ families with Easter dinners. She got Rhinehart Foods to donate ham and potatoes, and other support came in to round out the holiday meal.

The second distribution benefited waitresses, bartenders, hairdressers and others who were still waiting for unemployment checks.

“For that, we partnered with Robindale Energy, and owners Pam and Scott Croh and their employees made donations,” Straka said. “We were able to supply food to 100 families in mid-April.”

The third distribution was made possible with donations from all over the county including again from Robindale Energy.

“One man on Social Security said he didn’t have a lot of money, but he wanted to send us some,” Straka said.

That drive helped school bus drivers and individuals and families who needed help until their unemployment compensation began.

“Some people were declined for unemployment,” she said. “I didn’t realize what so many were going through. I did some research and was able to help some of them get through the applications. We were able to help in that way.”

Walmart donated palettes of water to hospital employees, and Westmoreland/Fayette/Allegheny County Animal Response Team provides pet food to qualified people. Students at Greater Latrobe High School donated the snacks, T-shirts and other items in their school store to first responders. When city employees got more food donations than they needed, they donated it to Union Mission.

“This has been a learning experience for all of us,” Straka said.

“I never thought that in my lifetime that I would ever have to deal with anything like this. We live and learn and move forward, and take it all in and appreciate everything that everyone has done. Everyone wants to help, and I think that through this, people are happier and more kind. They’re walking down the street saying hello and asking how you are. The kindness has just been amazing.”

Pennsylvanians are invited to post acts of kindness on the state website, 143day.dced.pa.gov.

Lepore remembers some of last year’s good deeds. One person left a prepaid card at a laundromat, and a family bought pizza for the teachers at their child’s elementary school. Eat’n Park paid for all of the parking all day at one of the Pittsburgh hospitals, and another group sent flowers to the PA Hospice Association in gratitude for their work. Gov. Wolf gifted a book to the lieutenant governor’s children, and Mrs. Wolf read a book to school children.

Lepore volunteered at a shelter in Harrisburg.

“Last year we were so blown away by the acts of kindness,” she said. “I was a Mister Rogers fan and all of the lessons from his show are so relevant today. We need Mister Rogers more today than ever before.”

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