Sarah Stemen, Erie Times News, July 13th, 2015
Original Article: http://www.goerie.com/kowalczyk-assists-erie-veterans-in-need
John Kowalczyk is the director and founder of the Veterans Miracle Center in Erie. Kowalczyk and his staff register needy veterans and then make available to them all kinds of supplies including housewares, clothing, furniture, toiletries among many other items, some of which Kowalczyk is holding here. All the merchandise, which Kowalczyk and his staff acquired through purchase and donations, is free to qualified veterans. Kowalczyk, 68, of Waterford Township, was photographed July 10 at the Veterans Miracle Center. In the background is volunteer and retired U.S. Air Force veteran volunteer Don Buberow, 64, of Erie. CHRISTOPHER MILLETTE/ERIE TIMES-NEWS
ERIE, Pa. — John Kowalczyk stepped into a warehouse crammed with cardboard boxes, pointing out dinnerware in one box.
To some, the warehouse looks like organized chaos. To Kowalcyzk, it looks like success.
Kowalcyzk, 68, of Waterford Township, recently founded the Veterans Miracle Center Erie, 1573 W. 39th St., designed to provide basic life necessities to homeless, at-risk and low-income veterans and their families.
The program provides new clothing, hygiene products, housewares and more. There’s no other organization in Pennsylvania like it, he said.
Erie Times-News: Is there a need for a program like this in Erie?
John Kowalczyk: Yes. A lot of the vets we find are on the streets.
Erie has 22,000 veterans’ families. That’s not counting Crawford or Venango.
What we’re doing, no one else has done.
ETN: How did this come about?
JK: I had no intention of ever doing this.
A friend of mine has a place like this in Albany (N.Y.). I was visiting him about a year ago, and he was telling me about this veterans place that he was doing.
I thought it was a great idea, and we suggested it. It was clear everyone was very supportive of this.
It’s been a whirlwind.
The building we’re in now we’re leasing. Four of us put in money to start it, and we got our 501(c)(3) status in March.
We’ve now started talking to different organizations in the community to get donations.
ETN: You haven’t profited a dime off this. Why do it?
JK: Honor. If we can honor, and if I can do my part to honor, these men and women who have given their lives for freedom, that’s all I want.
It’s sad. A lot of these people have been seriously wounded and then their benefits cut back.
I wasn’t in the service, but my dad was.
If we can give these vets something new and free, it makes such a difference.
You wouldn’t believe when they come in; they weep.
ETN: How can Erie support this effort?
JK: We only take new donations. There are organizations that take used, but we don’t.
The general public can help a few ways.
We’ve got events — the American Heroes Golf Classic on Aug. 3 and a car rally that will be held here soon. You can donate online, either on our site or on our GoFundMe page.
Some host what’s called a Welcome Home to Hope housewarming party.
Someone hosts a party, and all the guests bring new items from a list we make that normally includes hygiene products, housewares and stuff like that, and then it’s all donated.
ETN: Though it’s only been around a few months, what are some of the long-term goals of the organization?
JK: We want to be helping at least four veterans a day and 800 a year.
We are continuing our outreach to get in front of organizations who realize how important this is to Erie.
We’ve been talking to politicians and organizations to get the word out.
We also need to expand. More and more people are coming from Crawford and Venango counties. We’re now looking at getting a place in Meadville.
— Sarah Stemen