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Navy veteran 'Tom the Barber' gives free haircuts for a cause

Over the last five years, Tom has raised around $10,000 for Minnesota nonprofit Arm in Arm in Africa.

MINNETONKA, Minn. — Every Tuesday morning in the basement garage of Applewood Pointe, 87-year-old Tom Gorzycki gives free haircuts to fellow residents of the independent senior living co-op. 

"Haven't lost the touch yet," said Gorzycki, scissors in hand.

Sometimes, only a couple of residents take advantage of the 90-minute window Gorzycki makes himself available each week. This week though, a record nine residents eased their way onto his barber shop chair. 

"Kim will be down shortly," Gorzycki said to a client. "His wife has been on him for three weeks."

"There you go, John," he later said. "David, you're next."

Gorzycki's first time cutting hair was 70 years ago — in 1952 — while serving in the U.S. Navy. He went on to open his own barber shop.

"I retired 23 years ago," he said. "Sold my business and retired … and then, when I moved here, I brought all my tools with me."

When Gorzycki decided to set up shop at Applewood Pointe five years ago, he informed everyone that his haircuts would be free but that donations were welcome.

"I said, 'However, I'm associated with this feeding program in South Africa and my wife and I have been there twice so we know it's legitimate and whatever monies are collected will go there,'" he said.

Gorzycki and his wife, Mary, volunteer for Arm in Arm in Africa. According to its website, the Minnesota nonprofit works with South African community leaders "to identify and fulfill the core human needs of food, healthcare, and education." Pandemic years excluded, AIAIA has sent a group to South Africa to carry out its mission every year since the year 2000. The Gorzyckis visited in approximately 2012 and 2015.

"The little kids come through first, get their plates, sit on the ground and eat —like this," Gorzycki said, pointing to a large, framed photo of South African children on his wall. "Then the adults and everyone's fed. And then afterwards, one of us in our group will stand next to one of those stacks of food and they'll call the name of the person and they'll come up and get it. Some will have a wheelbarrow. Some will have a bunch of kids and they balance it on their head, carry it out. It's just, it's amazing."

The flight to South Africa takes about 17 hours and while Gorzycki says he doesn't plan to visit again, he plans to keep cutting hair for the cause as long as he can.

"As long as the hands are steady," he said.

Gorzycki keeps a simple donation jar on the counter and says, to-date, residents have donated around $10,000. AIAIA will host a fundraiser on July 11. While the event is now sold out, there is opportunity to join the waitlist or make a donation online.

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