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'Broken Heart' shirt sales to benefit Tree of Life

Rachel LaBar
| Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2018, 4:48 p.m.

As co-creator of the popular online series “Pittsburgh Dad,” Chris Preksta regularly uses his talents to pay homage to the town he calls home.

When his beloved city became the scene of a mass shooting Oct. 27, Preksta again turned to art to express his feelings for the Steel City and its people.

Preksta, of Pleasant Hills, created the “Broken Heart” image that quickly spread across social media Saturday as details continued to emerge of the shooting at Tree of Life synagogue in Squirrel Hill that left 11 dead and six injured.

Through a partnership with Steel City clothing company, Preksta has created a T-shirt with the image available in store and online , with 100 percent of proceeds going to Tree of Life.

Preksta was home with his two daughters when wife Ashley texted him the news of the events unfolding in Squirrel Hill, where he used to live. Preksta immediately turned on the TV and watched all day while staying in close communication with his family. His uncle was married at Tree of Life.

Watching the news coverage, Preksta felt his own heart break. He then saw people on social media sharing images of broken hearts.

“Something popped into my mind when I saw that image,” Preksta said. “The crack down the center of the heart looked like a river. That immediately, of course, made me think of the Three Rivers.

“When you’re an artist, once you get an idea in your mind, you have to see it through. In all of maybe five or 10 minutes, I sat down and put together this simple illustration to show how I was feeling.”

Preksta shared it on social media but had no ambitions of widely spreading the image depicting a gold heart with black rivers running through it and a Star of David over the city. But as more people saw it, many shared it and some even began using it as their profile pictures.

“Typically, we use profile pictures to share with others who we are, so when I saw so many people, even for a day, turning it into their profile picture, it spoke volumes,” Preksta said. “I was very honored to see so many people sharing it and that the image clicked with them the way it did with me.”

The image created out of raw emotion captured the initial grief and helplessness many felt. By the next day, as Preksta watched Pittsburghers come together to heal and support one another, he was inspired to create a sister image, this one with tape acting as bridges over the rivers.

“People were, through their own hard work and love, forcing hope into this situation,” Preksta said. “We’re the City of Bridges. Rivers do divide the city, but we are notorious for the insane amount of bridges we have built so those rivers do not divide those areas. So it felt appropriate to create a sister image that represented the response to things.”

The shirt available for sale is of the first image, though intitially, Preksta was hesitant to create a shirt at all. He didn’t want people to think he was trying to capitalize on a tragedy, which was in no way his intention. But then, as more and more people asked him if there was some way they could get the image on a shirt, he realized people wanted it to express how they were feeling.

Preksta partners with Steel City for “Pittsburgh Dad” merchandise, and when he reached out to CEO Brandon Grbach, he learned people had been contacting the company about wanting something to help them express their grief as well.

The two created the shirt, and within a matter of hours, sold thousands.

“It’s been crazy, that’s an understatement, said Grbach.

“People are saying they’re so happy we’re doing this because they feel like it’s something they can wear to show their support for Pittsburgh. It’s a way for them to wear their pride. It makes me feel good Chris and I were able to come together and collaborate on something so meaningful.”

Cost of the shirt is $29.99. All proceeds go to Tree of Life. Details: shopsteelcity.com

Rachel LaBar is a Tribune-Review assistant news editor. You can contact Rachel at rlabar@tribweb.com.

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