Hundreds of Red Cross kits assembled for Eagle Scout project
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Last fall, Stephan Kowalyk discovered he couldn't park his car in the family's Greensburg garage -- 533 Red Cross disaster comfort kits were in the way.
In January, Dr. Kowalyk's 16-year-old son, Matthew, delivered the kits to the American Red Cross of Westmoreland County in Greensburg, and now, Matthew is finishing the paperwork needed to become an Eagle Scout.
Matthew got the idea for collecting personal hygiene items that the Red Cross provides to disaster victims in September, when a friend in Hempfield lost his home in a flood.
"The Red Cross was there with these disaster comfort kits. I thought, 'Why not do something that will seriously benefit people?' " said Matthew, a sophomore at Hempfield Area High School.
According to Michael Felice, emergency services director for the Westmoreland Red Cross, the organization strives to have 1,000 kits on hand.
"Last year, we gave out 720 comfort kits to families involved in a disaster," he said.
Each kit consists of a gallon-sized reclosable bag that contains basic items that people who have lost everything would need immediately. It includes a washcloth, toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo, lotion, soap and comb.
Matthew created separate kits for adults and children, adding a disposable razor and shaving cream to adult kits and a coloring book and crayons to those for children.
To gather the kits' contents, Matthew asked several local businesses for donations.
"Everyone gave something. I got tons of support," he said.
Excela Health contributed $500 that Matthew used to buy items to complete the kits. Local dentists gave more than 300 tubes of toothpaste and toothbrushes. Walmart in Greensburg contributed razors. Fun Party Stores donated coloring books and crayons. Excela Health contributed $500 that Matthew used to buy items to complete the kits. Members of First Presbyterian Church in Greensburg, where Matthew is a member, donated money and items.
"For five weeks, I went during [the church] coffee hour in my uniform and stood with a very large box, asking for donations," he said.
Once supplies were gathered, about 15 members of his troop, Troop 480, helped him prepare the kits at his church.
"It only took a few hours. I provided them with food -- pizza and homemade cookies. That always gets them," he said, adding that he produced a YouTube video of the kit assembly called "Matt Kowalyk's Eagle Scout Project Time Lapse."
According to his mother, Debra, Matthew has always had plenty of support from his fellow Scouts and Scout masters, John Anderson and John Scheurman.
"They really encourage the kids. For every rank, they have to do service projects. The kids don't even think twice about it," she said.
Each year an average of 105 Scouts from the Westmoreland-Fayette Council of Boy Scouts of America meet the requirements to become an Eagle Scout, the highest achievement in Boy Scouts. Boys work toward that goal when they join at age 11 and begin earning the 21 merit badges required to become an Eagle Scout.
"Finally, they must complete a service project they plan, direct and give leadership to making that happen," said Martin Barbie, Scout executive at the Westmoreland-Fayette Council.
Once the paperwork is submitted, Matthew will meet with his Scoutmaster and have a conference with a review board made up of five other Scouting leaders.
And after that, he said, his parents will allow him to apply for his driver's license.
"It's kind of a family rule," he said.
First Published March 29, 2012 5:48 am