Despite setbacks, charity makes another stand
Hank Commodore wants folks to know his Help the Needie, Not the Greedie initiative still is reaching out to those in need in the Alle-Kiski Valley.
Due to his own health problems and some struggles distributing furniture and other goods to the region's poor, Commodore's program hasn't been at the forefront in recent months.
But it'll be back this weekend when he begins distributing mattresses to those who apply.
He says he has a tractor-trailer filled with mattresses of varying sizes that he'll give away for free.
Commodore, 64, who owns a home in Leechburg but is living in Pittsburgh, said he began asking recipients to fill out applications citing their financial need because he feared some were taking advantage of the organization's generosity.
That was just one hurdle Help the Needie has encountered in recent years.
The group had to shuffle between several warehouses in New Kensington and Upper Burrell to store its furniture after rent was raised or the owners developed other plans for their space. Commodore now is renting space in Arnold.
Another blow was dealt in 2011 when about $100,000 worth of furniture was stolen as Commodore was in the process of moving from one warehouse to another.
Although Levin Furniture and other companies and individuals have donated supplies and money, Commodore said he funds most of the program himself, from buying the items he intends to donate to paying for rent, insurance, shipping and other costs.
Through it all, Commodore has battled debilitating health problems, including polymyositis, a chronic inflammation of the muscles.
But he says he's committed to continuing to distribute furniture, toys, clothing and whatever else he learns people need — just as he's done since college.
A star basketball player at Ford City High School in the 1960s, Commodore went on to play basketball at Northwestern Oklahoma State University. While there, he and roommate Ardell Smith got the idea to win some carnival prizes for a friend's child.
“That changed my life,” Commodore said.
The giveaway went so well, Smith and Commodore began winning hundreds of prizes for disabled and needy kids. Commodore said they won so many toys that some amusement parks began limiting how many prizes contestants could win.
Commodore also made a friend for life — Smith, who lives in Jeannette, continues to assist with Help the Needie.
After a knee injury and the military draft derailed Commodore's short-lived professional basketball career, he returned to college and earned a master's degree in education.
He was hired by New Kensington-Arnold School District in the early 1970s as a counselor and later as dean of students, supervising students' home studies and discipline. He spent about 30 years at the district, trying to show students that someone cared.
“Love and discipline — that's all kids need,” Commodore said.
Although his health forced him to retire about a decade ago, Commodore has continued to distribute goods and host programs to help local kids and their families. Additionally, he said he and his fiancée, Vickie Hardy, recently adopted four children.
Commodore remembers the many relatives, teachers, coaches, co-workers, doctors and friends who have helped him over the years. He hopes to encourage adults — including many of his former students — to try to make a difference in the lives of this generation's youth.
“I've been blessed. God has been good to me,” Commodore said, despite his current ailments and problems that have included severely burned hands as a toddler and a prolonged hospitalization for a ruptured appendix when he was 7.
Although Commodore estimates he's spent thousands of his own money over the years, he said he doesn't regret his efforts.
“It all belongs to God in the first place,” Commodore said. “It's not ours. I give all the glory to God.”
Liz Hayes is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4680 or firstname.lastname@example.org.