Community serves meals to those who protect (audio)

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The local community has jumped at the opportunity to give back to the many health care workers and first responders continuing to serve and protect through the uncertain times of COVID-19.

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One simple, yet deliciously effective way to it’s being done is in the form of a hot meal “on the house.”

Earlier this week, Pudgie’s Pizza in Cortland gave away hundreds of free sheet pizzas to local first responders, health workers, nonprofits and even residents in need.

(Pudgies FB photo)

In the kitchen saucing dough was “Uncle Pudgie” himself, Charles Cleary, who’s one of the original co-founders of the franchise with his brothers Francis (a.k.a. “Franky the Cheese) and Mike Cleary.

Bill and Joanne Cleary (Charles’ nephew and niece-in-law) are sole owners of the Cortland location on North Main Street, which was the site of the special giveaway earlier this week.

What began as the first-ever pizza shop in Elmira back in 1963, gradually evolved into chain that at its highest point had more than 40 locations open in multiple counties of New York and Pennsylvania.

Many were later closed after the company was franchised in 1990 following the passing of one of its co-founders, but the Cleary family has since continued playing a significant role in the development of the company’s ten current shops.

They’re also no strangers to philanthropy through pizza, as the same gesture was made to the Elmira community during the aftermath of the “Flood of the Century” in 1972.

WXHC stopped by Tuesday’s special giveaway, where Vinnie Bellardini got a rare chance to speak with the man whose name is on the sign.

Press play below to hear the interview with Charles “Uncle Pudgie” Cleary:


Area first responders can now look forward to a spaghetti & meatball dinner, coming up this Tuesday evening (May 5) thanks to another pair of community members.


The idea was materialized by Homer resident and Vietnam War Veteran Mike McDermott, who also serves as the New York State American Legion commander.

McDermott was named to that position back in February 2019, becoming the first-ever Cortland County resident to do so in the Legion’s 100-year history.

During that time, the organization has sponsored popular youth programs like Boys & Girls State and the annual summer baseball league.

Since COVID-19 forced these events and many others to be canceled, McDermott said he’s been thoughtfully considering how best to support his community.

“Being the commander, I’m allowed to spend a certain amount of money on certain things,” McDermott said. “Many of our first responders are veterans themselves, so I thought we could try and help a few of them a little.”

The pandemic also means McDermott will serve a second term as commander.

Those invited for a free meal on Tuesday include members of local police & fire departments across the county, along with the Sheriff’s Office, State Police, TLC and Emergency Room workers at Guthrie Cortland Medical Center.

Food is being provided courtesy of Little Italy on Route 11 in Homer, where Tuesday’s carside pickup will take place from 4-7 pm.

“I can’t believe how big it’s gotten, but we’re so excited to do this,” said McDermott. “Some of these folks are on call 24-hours a day, seeing things none of us want to know about. I just respect them and think they deserve a little something in return.”

Press play below for the interview with McDermott:


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