TO RUSSIA WITH LOVE
A Pennsburg man is making a difference in the lives of Russian people
By Sergei Blair
Town and Country Newspaper
(Published 1/17/08 Edition; Volume 108, No. 42)
For one local barber, cutting hair isn’t his only life’s work. Pennsburg resident Frank Del Vecchio, 66, has been traveling to <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />Russia with a humanitarian aid program for ten years now, giving hope to orphans and other needy people in the former Soviet Union.
Before getting involved in Russia, Del Vecchio said he only knew about the former communist country through newspaper and television presentations. The desire to go to Russia was not something Del Vecchio had in mind--or so he thought.
“The only understanding I had about Russian people was what I’ve seen in the media, and to me they seemed so cold and so straight-laced.” he recalled. “I’ve heard of Russia all my life but never thought of going there.”
Del Vecchio became a barber at the age of 18 and has been doing the same job ever since. He has been working at Molettiere’s Barber Shop in Landsdale since 1963 where, he said, he gained an appreciation for people from all different walks of life.
“[Cutting hair] is a great opportunity for me to get to know other people from different types of backgrounds and just to talk to them about their lives,” he said.
After seeing an opportunity to talk about his personal religious faith, Del Vecchio took his message from a small-town barber shop all the way across the Atlantic Ocean.
His interest in traveling to Russia was sparked when Del Vecchio and his wife, Debbie, volunteered at the warehouse in Lancaster which served as a packaging and shipping distribution center for Operation Carelift, a Christian outreach of Josh McDowell Ministries. After giving it a careful thought, the couple enthusiastically committed themselves to go on a short-term ministry trip to Russia.
In winter of 1997, once all their financial needs were met, Del Vecchios were set to embark on a journey. Their plans, though, were suddenly thwarted when Frank ended up in the hospital for a quadruple heart bypass operation only three weeks before the trip date.
“So it was evident I wasn’t going to Russia that time,” he recalled with laughter.
In summer of 1998, Frank tried once again and this time made his way to Novgorod, a historic city in northwestern Russia.
“I came away loving the Russian people…it was just intriguing to get to know the people there for who they really are,” he said.
For all twelve trips to Russia, Del Vecchio, who sometimes is accompanied by his wife, works with other volunteers from across the United States and visits public institutions like orphanages, hospitals, prisons and churches.
The volunteers work endlessly for a two-week period distributing things like food, clothing, toys, shoes, seeds and “Carepacks” (backpacks which consist of various school supplies and letters from Americans.)
“It’s amazing when children in Russia receive simple gifts like a pencil or a toothbrush and they appreciate it so much…They have absolutely nothing, but when you give them these simple gifts it means a world to them.”
According to Frank, every trip is different in its own way. He recalled when he gave a shoe box with a gift inside to a little boy during one trip. Neither one knowing what was in it, they boy opened it to find a girl’s doll. Del Vecchio said the boy accepted the gift, appreciative that someone thought enough of him to give him something.
“When you have incidents like that, it just gives you a whole different outlook on how much these children appreciate what they get,” he said.
Debbie also traveled to India in July 2007 where she worked in mobile camps for the lower caste of that country’s society known as the “untouchables.”
“My heart aches not only for people of Russia but in India as well where children are being exploited and forced into prostitution,” she said.
She said for the most part she sees similar socials ills in Russia and India and will continue making trips to both countries if she has the chance to do so.
Del Vecchio said that after living in an oppressed society for nearly 70 years, many Russians are hungry for the truth, and he whole heartedly believes that he can help them find it.
He noted his personal faith has played an important part in all his trips to Russia.
Originally started in 1991 as a humanitarian project to the former Soviet Union, Operation Carelift has changed its name to Global Aid Network (GAiN) and is now overseeing projects in more than 30 countries. It has distributed more than $125 million worth of aid and mobilized more than 10,000 short-term mission participants to foreign lands.
When he’s not traveling, Del Vecchio is busy writing support letters to friends and family members, as well as visiting different churches and local businesses where he presents the information about GAiN USA and his Russian trips to raise the necessary financial support for his next trip. So far, each time he has been fortunate to succeed in that process.
On February 23, Del Vecchio will travel to Belarus for the first time to render aid there.
“When I go to Belarus I have no idea what to expect because the country is changing drastically,” he said. He spoke about Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko’s radical policies to bring the country back to a Communist state.Del Vecchio said his work in Russia will continue as long as he can make a difference. <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />
“It almost has become my life,” he said. “Russia has become a big part of my life.”
For more information about GAiN USA, please visit www.gainusa.org