Coming back to western Pennsylvania from Philadelphia, the 14th Annual PA Hero Walk will make its way through the Ligonier Valley this week as it nears the end of its 300-mile journey.
The fundraising walk is a statewide event held by the nonprofit Kiski Valley Veterans and Patriots Association to help Pennsylvania veterans. The walk began June 12, with the eight members leaving from the Philadelphia Museum of Art traveling along U.S. Route 30.
When the group arrives in Ligonier 5 p.m. Wednesday, they will have walked 245 miles in 10 days. After arriving at the Diamond, the group will join with the Ligonier Hometown Hero Walk, continuing from the Diamond to the American Legion Byers-Tosh Post 267 on Kelly Street. A post-walk celebration will follow.
The following day, the group will step off from Ligonier at 8 a.m., making their way to Blairsville, with an 11:30 a.m. stop at the Derry Eagles Aerie 1612 on East 1st Avenue, in Derry Borough.
The group has been completing the two-week walk since 2009, raising money to assist veterans with meeting their housing and utility payments, food needs or costly car repairs.
Dave Rapacchietta, the group’s president, said members participate in the walk to help those who served and bring awareness to their needs.
“We want to show our love of country and our veterans,” Rapacchietta said.
Kiski Valley Veterans and Patriots Association gives out on average $100,000 a year in grants, according to Rapacchietta. Veterans must be a Pennsylvania resident, have an honorable discharge and be enrolled with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and their county’s veterans affairs department.
Donations pour in along the route from individuals and corporations alike. Other nonprofits, like the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars, also donate and host the group as they make their way across the state.
This year, the group’s goal is to raise $300,000, a feat they previously reached back in 2013 after receiving more than $370,000 in contributions.
After arriving in Blairsville, the group will be on its home stretch, with stops Friday in Saltsburg, Apollo and Vandergrift. On Saturday, the “Hometown Stretch” will start in Leechburg and end at VFW Post 92 in Lower Burrell.
The PA Hero Walk started with Murrysville resident Al Pulice, who wanted to help raise money and awareness for veterans, according to the group’s website. In 2014, the group focused its mission on specifically helping Pennsylvania veterans.
Since its inception, the PA Hero Walk has raised more than $2.73 million for veterans. Along with helping veterans with housing and food needs, the group has also provided veterans with used cars so they can attend school, work or medical appointments.
All of the money raised goes toward grants, with a minimal amount spent on the fundraising itself and no compensation paid to its directors, records show.
Anyone wishing to walk with the group, purchase merchandise or drop off a donation can meet the group during its stop in Ligonier Wednesday or before they start walking at 8 a.m. Thursday.
Information on the group’s other stops and progress can be found on its Facebook page or at www.paherowalk.com. Donations can be made through PayPal on the website as well.
Even though the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have come to a close, it is important people remember those who served and now need help after their service has ended, Rapacchietta said.
“The most important thing is to donate,” Rapacchietta said. “Each year we’re removed from a war, people forget.”