Working Warrior sees surge in interest after volunteer's 'Jeopardy!' run
The founder of a small Pittsburgh nonprofit that aims to put area veterans to work said interest in the organization has surged since one of its regular volunteers competed on “Jeopardy!”
Dave Leffler, a retired Allegheny County police officer, took home $101,102 on the game show before his winning streak came to an end Dec. 7. Leffler volunteers at Working Warrior Foundation , which he mentioned during his “Jeopardy!” run.
“The national response, it’s been great,” said Mark Simon, the organization’s founder. “The website traffic — we’re receiving volunteers who are signing up looking to help and businesses are calling to partner.”
Simon, a 44 year-old Marine veteran who served from 1992 to 1996, founded the nonprofit in 2014 while pursuing a master’s degree from the University of Pittsburgh in public policy and management.
He said the master’s program helped him see the need for helping veterans find work. Simon said Pennsylvania has the fourth-largest concentration of veterans in the United States. In Southwestern Pennsylvania, the veteran population is roughly 235,000, and about 99,000 live in Allegheny County, Simon said.
“Each veteran on average supports 2.5 dependents. And 25 percent of them identify as food insecure,” Simon said. “And veterans are prideful. I have a son in the Army. We know the number is probably higher.”
Simon, a facilities manager for the Allegheny County Department of Human Services, said the Working Warrior Foundation has anywhere from four to 10 volunteers helping out on a regular basis. The organization operates a monthly food pantry and helps veterans navigate resources available for finding jobs.
While the organization was founded in 2014, it didn’t launch its programming until this year because of limited funds. About 250 veterans have benefited from the food pantry, and the organization has helped three veterans find work so far.
“These people have the capability of doing this. It’s just a matter of getting some help sometimes,” Simon said.
Another benefit of Leffler’s experience on “Jeopardy!” was his $1,000 commitment to be used for the eventual purchase of a refrigerated food truck for the organization’s mobile food distribution. Both Leffler and his wife, Casandra, volunteer for the Working Warrior Foundation on a regular basis.
The interest in the nonprofit was most prominent locally, Simon said.
“The support of the community has been second to none. Pittsburgh is a really great place to talk to people about a problem because there’s a lot of people that want to resolve problems in Pittsburgh,” he said.
The organization will host a veteran appreciation luncheon from 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday in McKees Rocks. Veterans eat for free and non-veterans are asked to give a $10 donation at the door. More information can be found on the event’s Facebook page .
Dillon Carr is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Dillon at 412-871-2325, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @dillonswriting.