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Hardware store collecting donations for man who lost home to fire

JOHNSTOWN, Pa. -- A fund created to help an Upper Yoder township man who lost his home to fire last month is now under investigation. Johnstown police are asking people to hold off on sending money to a P.O. Box 6 News told viewers about over the weekend called the Joe Varmecky Fire Fund.

Johnstown police said they're trying to determine where the money from that fundraising effort is actually going because they say they none of Varmecky's close friends or family members knew about it. Police said there is a new fund that will be set up soon, but in the meantime, 6 News found a local business that's been helping Varmecky for weeks.

It was Oct. 28 when fire destroyed Varmecky's Swank Avenue home. He was rescued by a police officer, who went in after him.

"He can't hear, he can't speak and as far as I know, he's been that way his entire life," said Karen Lux, who works at Bantly Hardware in Johnstown. "But, he's very intelligent."

Because Varmecky is hearing impaired and partially blind, the only way for him to communicate is through writing. That's what the officer did the night of the fire and something employees at Bantly Hardware have done with him for years.

"He writes everything down and I write all the responses down and that's how we communicate," said Lux.

Lux has worked at the store for many years and said she quickly got to know Varmecky because he's a regular, stopping by at least once a week to purchase supplies for his woodworking.

"He makes all sorts of things out of wood," said Lux. "We've sold bird feeders of his here to people in the community. He makes chairs."

What happened to Varmecky was nothing less than tragic. Without a home, he's staying with a friend but will eventually need a place to call his own and all the amenities. That's why Bantly Hardware immediately stepped in to help, collecting money and clothing to get him on his feet.

"He came in about a week after the fire took place for us to give him these things and it was funny because I asked, 'How are you Joe?' and he immediately started to talk about another guy that he knows who has cancer," said Lux. "I really just wanted to know how Joe was but he was elaborating about another fellow who has a health issue."

Employees at the store tell 6 News they have already collected more than $400. They encourage anyone willing to donate to stop by the store, saying they'll make sure it's hand delivered to Varmecky. In fact, they said anyone who stops by has a good chance of meeting Varmecky themselves, because he's always there.

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Edgar Snyder

Washington Times