Retired barber Tom Gorzycki cuts hair to feed the poor in South Africa

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Tom Gorzycki closed his Minnesota hair salon 23 years ago, but he still cuts hair.

Gorzycki, 87, set up a makeshift living room in the basement of his senior living co-op five years ago. It offers free haircuts to residents on Tuesday mornings — with a catch: they’re encouraged to contribute what they can to a cause close to Gorzycki’s heart.

“Any amount you want to put in the jar is fine with me,” he tells his clients, all of whom are men residing in his community, Applewood Pointe in Minnetonka, Minnesota.

All donations go to Arm in Arm in Africa – a Minnesota-based organization that Gorzycki and his wife, Mary, have volunteered with for several years. The non-profit organization supports poor communities in South Africa by providing them with food, healthcare and educational opportunities.

In the five years he cut his hair, Gorzycki raised over $10,000 for Arm in Arm in Africa.

“I am gratified by what I am doing to feed my friends in South Africa,” he said.

The barber was Gorzycki’s life for seven decades. He learned to cut his hair when he joined the United States Navy in 1952. While on a Navy ship, Gorzycki began watching the barber on board do his job. He was intrigued.

“I was helping, and through trial and error I got pretty good,” said Gorzycki, who fought in the Korean War.

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He soon became the ship’s barber and he also ran the ship’s store, which sold toiletries, cigarettes, and confectionery to servicemen.

After leaving the service in 1956, Gorzycki enrolled in the Minneapolis Barber School and later opened a salon called Tom’s Barbershop. From then on, he was known as “Tom the Barber”.

“I had my own shop for 36 years,” he said. “It was a neighborhood store, so I got to know people. We must be friends.

In many cases, he said, he gave children their first haircut and then, 20 years later, cut their hair on their wedding day. Watching his clients grow was his favorite part of his job.

“I love remembering now,” Gorzycki said.

Upon retirement, he and his wife focused on volunteer efforts to occupy their time. Through their church, they found out about Arm in Arm in Africa – which operates in three different parts of South Africa – and they were eager to get involved.

“We started off running,” Gorzycki said.

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The couple have traveled to South Africa twice with the organization – in 2012 and 2015 – for three-week volunteer trips during which they helped organize food distributions and other initiatives.

“We would go there, greet them and hang out with them,” Gorzycki said.

“We were so impressed with the people, the friendliness, the acceptance,” he added. “We’re all family now.”

What struck Gorzycki most about the South Africans he met, he said, was that “they are the most generous with the little they have”.

More than once, he saw people sharing their lot of food with others who needed it more.

“They’re all poor, and yet they’re willing to give up so someone else can have it,” said Gorzycki, who also said he grew up poor.

His mother, he says, taught him to support others as much as possible.

“I never thought about it at the time, but it was my mother’s influence that instilled in me this ability to reach out and give,” he said, adding that he also volunteered weekly at the local veterans hospital – which he did. for nearly two decades. “She was very generous.

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Arm in Arm in Africa is grateful for Gorzycki’s continued contributions – and humbled by his unwavering commitment to the cause, said Pat Dawson, the organization’s executive director.

“He made a huge difference in our development,” Dawson said. “Tom’s personal gifts go far beyond his barbershop gifts.”

“Tom is just a remarkably humble and inspiring guy,” he continued. “He’s been incredibly generous and a role model of the kind of person we’d like 10,000 of in our organization.”

Although he no longer travels to South Africa, Gorzycki said he plans to continue supporting the cause close to his heart while doing what he loves: cutting hair, helping others and making himself friends.

John Richards, 71, is a regular customer at the basement hair salon, where Gorzycki has set up a chair, mirror and small station with his tools along with a framed photo of South African children and a pot for donations. Richards comes in for a haircut every few weeks and always leaves a $20 bill.

“You get a great, world-class haircut from a world-class barber, and you help feed people in Africa,” Richards said. “It’s a win-win for everyone.”

“It’s a very popular service,” he added. “Everyone knows their schedules. Even people who don’t need a haircut will go there to socialize with everyone.

Gorzycki offers haircuts every Tuesday between 10 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. The same residents regularly show up for a new cut, although new ones arrive every now and then.

As for numbers, “I had between one and nine,” said Gorzycki, who has six children, four stepchildren, five grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

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He no longer cuts women’s hair, he explained, because it can be more complicated to cut and style.

“Senior men’s haircuts are easier because a lot of us don’t have much hair left,” he laughed.

Gorzycki has no plans to stop his haircut endeavors. His hair salon in the basement, he says, keeps him busy and fulfilled.

“As long as I still have a steady hand, I will continue,” Gorzycki said.

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