‘Committed to community service’: Local office of state agency focuses on giving back

Local office of state agency focuses on giving back

PAT CROSSLEY/Sun-Gazette Correspondent From left: Bill Mericle, of Toys for Tots, and state Department of Transportation workers Malcolm Derks and Al Uscowskas prepare to load the 46 bicycles that employees of the department’s District 3 office purchased to donate. Derks is responsible for purchasing the bikes, while Uscowskas coordinates the district’s Bill Craver Bikes for Tykes program.

Some lucky children throughout the county will find new bikes under the tree on Monday in part through the generosity of the employees at the state Department of Transportation’s District 3 office in Montoursville, who have worked throughout the year raising money to give back to the community where they live and work.

Since 2011, over 400 bikes have been donated by the employees through the Bill Craver Bikes for Tykes program. This year, 46 bikes were donated.

According to Al Uscowskas, who coordinates the program, Craver was a temporary employee at PennDOT who donated bikes to the Toys for Tots program. Craver has since passed away.

“Several employees at PennDOT decided to spearhead a campaign to carry his name forward and his drive to help people,” Uscowskas said.

Some of the creative ways the employees have raised the money needed to purchase the bikes include selling snacks in the employee snack bar and holding luncheons featuring meatball subs or hot sausage sandwiches. They also have conducted chili or soup cookoffs to bring in the funds for the bikes.

One year, they were able to purchase 132 bikes — so many that they needed a hangar at the Williamsport Regional Airport to store them and a volunteer crew of 20 people to assemble the bikes.

Uscowskas is quick to assert that the people participating in the program don’t do it for personal kudos.

“Everybody here is very humble,” he said. “They don’t do it for the recognition. We’re just doing it to give back to the community and help the less fortunate, just doing it for the right reasons.”

That sense of commitment to the community also is carried out in other areas at PennDOT.

The Christmas “Food Fight” is a friendly competition between the four units at the district office. The administrative, construction, design and maintenance units each vie for the coveted “Silver Pineapple Award,” which is given to the unit that brings in the most cash donations and non-perishable food items.

Each year they decide where to donate the food. This is the second consecutive year that the food has gone to Footprints of Montgomery, which is run by Michael Bender, a district plans engineer at PennDOT, and his wife.

According to Bender, Footprints serves 90 families, or over 200 people, in the Montgomery area.

The State Employee Combined Appeal is another way that employees can contribute to the charity of their choice. This year the district employees have pledged more than $42,000 to non-profit organizations through payroll deductions or one-time donations, which exceeded their original goal of $38,000.

According to Sheena Gorman, who coordinates the program, an additional $1,000 has been raised through food events such as luncheons featuring tacos, pierogis or homemade soup.

Another beneficiary of the employees’ generosity are children in foster care who receive gifts through the “Giving Tree” each year.

Names of children are placed on tags with a list of their wants and needs and employees can, either as a group or individually, choose or “adopt” a child’s name and purchase the items. This year, 25 children have been “adopted” during the program, according to Shelly Bower, who helps coordinate it.

The program runs from the beginning of September until the end of October.

Fundraisers are held to provide for names that might not get chosen, Bower said. This year, though, every name on the tree was picked.

“It makes people realize we’re really lucky in life and that there are other people who are not,” Bower said of the program. “They are struggling.

“I think it’s important, too, that PennDOT is recognized for (its) interest in charitable events and the community needs,” she added.

Dave Thompson, district community relations coordinator, agreed.

“People see PennDOT as a faceless organization, but the reality is that we have people who work in this building and in the county who live in the communities where they work and care about them deeply, and I think that’s something people don’t understand — that we’re local people too and we care about our communities and want to see the best for them,” he said.

“There are many needs in our community, and our team is committed to giving back to those in need,” said District 3 Executive Sandra Tosca. “Not only is the PennDOT team committed to public service, we are also committed to community service.”