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Navy veteran 'Tom the Barber' gives out free haircuts to combat food insecurity in South Africa

'As long as I still have a steady hand, I'll keep going,' the 87-year-old said.

Navy veteran 'Tom the Barber' gives out free haircuts to combat food insecurity in South Africa
Cover Image Source: YouTube | KARE 11

Although he closed his Minnesota barbershop more than two decades ago, Tom Gorzycki isn't ready to put away his clippers just yet. Every Tuesday morning, the Navy veteran provides haircuts in the makeshift salon he set up in the basement of his senior living co-op five years ago. While the haircuts are free, those who take advantage of service Gorzycki offers every week are encouraged to contribute what they can to a cause that's very close to the 87-year-old's heart: Arm in Arm in Africa, a Minnesota-based nonprofit that provides food, healthcare and educational opportunities to impoverished communities in South Africa.


"Whatever amount you want to put in the jar is fine by me," Gorzycki tells his clients, all of whom are fellow residents in his retirement community, Applewood Pointe in Minnetonka. He has so far raised more than $10,000 for Arm in Arm in Africa. "I'm gratified by what I do to feed my friends in South Africa," he said. According to The Washington Post, Gorzycki's first time cutting hair was 70 years ago—when he joined the U.S. Navy in 1952 and was intrigued by the work of the barber on board. "I would help, and through trial and error, I got pretty good at it," he revealed.



Gorzycki, who fought in the Korean War, soon became the ship's barber. After leaving the service in 1956, he enrolled in barber school in Minneapolis and went on to open a salon called Tom's Barbershop. "I had my own shop for 36 years," Gorzycki, who came to be known as "Tom the Barber," explained. "It was a neighborhood shop, so I got to know the people. We got to be friends." When he decided to retire, he and his wife, Mary, devoted their time to volunteer efforts. "I retired 23 years ago," Gorzycki told KARE 11. "Sold my business and retired... and then, when I moved here, I brought all my tools with me."


It was through their church that the Gorzyckis learned about Arm in Arm in Africa. The couple visited South Africa for three-week volunteering stints with the organization twice—once in 2012 and later in 2015—during which they helped organize food distributions and other initiatives for local communities. "We would go in there and greet them and spend time just being there with them," Gorzycki said. "We were just so impressed with the people, the friendliness, the acceptance. We're all family now."


What resonated with him most during the visits, Gorzycki revealed, is that "they are the most generous with what little they have." He was pleasantly surprised to see people sharing their allotment of food with others who needed it more on multiple occasions. "They are all poor, and yet they are willing to let go of it so somebody else can have it," said Gorzycki, who also grew up in poverty with a mom who instilled in him the importance of supporting others whenever possible. "I never thought of it at the time, but it was my mother's influence that instilled me with this capacity to reach out and give," he said. "She was very generous."


Although Gorzycki—who has also been volunteering weekly at the local Veterans Affairs hospital for nearly two decades—won't be traveling to South Africa anymore, he plans to continue cutting hair to raise money for the cause for as long as he can. "As long as I still have a steady hand, I'll keep going," he said. Pat Dawson, executive director of Arm in Arm in Africa, is grateful for the senior's support and continuous contributions. "He has made a huge difference in our development," Dawson said. "Tom's personal giving goes far beyond his barbershop giving. Tom is just such a remarkably humble and inspiring guy. He's been incredibly generous and a model of the kind of person we'd love 10,000 of in our organization."

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