PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — John Richard Van Winkle is a Goodwill success story.
Van Winkle served in the U.S. military starting at just 16 years old. When he left the military, he said he found himself going from job to job, lacking basic skills for the modern workforce.
“I didn’t know anything about computers. I didn’t know how to type,” Van Winkle said.
He eventually secured a position as a welder for Caterpillar until a mass lay-off in 2014 put him back at the drawing board.
He also said financial issues were the cause of his separation from his wife. He returned to Peoria alone and got in touch with Goodwill Industries of Central Illinois. They were able to get him help, resources, and ultimately, back on his feet.
“It’s allowed me to go from homeless to my own apartment to having a phone and communication and contacts with employers,” he said.
Saturday morning, Oct. 16, Goodwill Commons in Peoria held its yearly “Stand Down for Veterans” event. There, veterans could get free services like haircuts, health checks, and flu, and COVID shots, plus free items like coats, boots, hats, and more.
“Today we have about 251 veterans that are coming here to get free services, free coats, hats, gloves for the winter as they prepare for the winter. And it’s part of our give back to the community since we’re so tied to veterans.”
The President and CEO of Goodwill Industries of Central Illinois, Don Johnson, said the organization goes beyond its thrift stores.
“What people know us for is our stores. A place where I’ll shop, a place where I’ll donate. How do we spin that off? How do we transform that donation into community services? And Goodwill does it everyday,” he said. “Especially for our veterans, and this is a good example of that.”
Among the veterans reaping the benefits of the event was Van Winkle, who said he is grateful for the help he’s received.
“I think everything that they’ve done for us and for our country and protecting our freedom, that we owe them projects like this,” Johnson said.