LAMONT FURNACE, Pa. (KDKA) — Just inside the front door of the George Marshall Elementary School stands a tree adorned with hands. Each hand is a construction paper cutout of a student in the school, and they are there to symbolize this month’s school-wide lesson.
“It takes all of us to put our hands together to make a school and a community all it can be,” says Principal Jason Johns.
Each morning, a student comes to the office to read to the school over the public address system that day’s act of kindness challenge.
Johns says, “Whether that’s playing with somebody new at recess, or smiling at five new people, or saying hi to five new people.”
Just around the corner from the school sits Smitty’s Bar and Grill where owner Gary Nicklow had no idea about the school’s “lesson of the month” when he called the school Monday morning.
“He left a voicemail on the phone here at school,” says Principal Johns.
Nicklow’s question was about the school’s cafeteria.
“All he wanted to do was find out the total balance of every student in the building. How much that was,” says Principal Johns.
The principal huddled with his cafeteria staff and then called Nicklow back.
“Seven-hundred dollars,” Johns says he told him, “All he said was, ‘That’s it?’” I’ll be over in a little bit.”
Nicklow told his long-time bartender Lisa McGarrity what he was about to do.
“I loved it,” McGarrity says, “There’s not too many people who does that kind of stuff.”
A few minutes later, Nicklow walked into the office at Marshall Elementary.
Principal Johns remembers, “He came in and was here about 30 seconds, handed us the check, shook my hand and off he went.”
Smitty’s regular, Bill Cunningham’s, reaction, “I can’t believe he did this. It’s amazing. At least the kids get to eat.”
Actually, no child is turned away from the cafeteria line in the Laurel Highlands schools. About half are in need of assistance or can’t afford to pay. The bills for those who can’t pay do accumulate, and must be paid before they graduate.
So McGarrity says for the families, “What Gary did was huge.”
Principal Johns says for his student’s parents, “This just kind of lessens the burden they might have this time of year.”
Many of the students and their families that had their debt cleared by Nicklow’s gift are finding out by letters in their mailboxes.
Those who know Nicklow aren’t surprised by his generosity. Last weekend, Smitty’s Bar and Grill hosted a fundraiser for Toys for Tots. In fact, there are boxes just inside the front door of Smitty’s filled with donated toys.
Nicklow is generous but modest, and it took some prying to find out Smitty’s has donated over $6,000 this year in money and goods. As Nicklow said in a written statement, “It doesn’t take long and there is no reason others can’t do the same.”
Smitty’s regular, Bernie Senky, says Nicklow is setting an example.
“It’s a wonderful thing he did, more people should do it, more businesses,” he said.
There are three other elementary schools, a middle school, and a high school in the Laurel Highlands School District, and Nicklow hopes others will come forward to wipe-out the student debt in those schools as well.
But he also points out being generous and helping someone else is an act that has no limits, but limitless rewards.