Magazine: Helping Hands Worldwide
After 1,050 years of Christendom, the Catholic faith has never left Poland. According to the U.S. Department of State, Poland’s population is estimated to be 39 million. More than 96 percent of citizens are identified as Roman Catholic.
Chris Nowotarski, Holy Family 1, Chicago, Ill., who also serves as COF’s Legal Counsel, has visited Poland on several occasions. “I go once about every year and a half,” he shared. “There is a lot of Catholic history in Poland.”
Chris is the Vice President of the Polish-American Congress Charitable Foundation (PACCF) which provides medical supplies and equipment to hospitals, rehabilitation centers, orphanages, and senior centers. It also helps churches in Poland through a program called “Relief for Poland.” That same foundation, founded in 1971 by several leaders of Polish fraternal organizations, sponsors 25 kids each year to travel to Poland and learn about their Polish heritage. “The kids get to experience Poland and learn about their ancestry. It’s a great trip,” Chris said. That trip is partially paid for by PACCF, which also gives an average of $80,000 each year in tuition assistance to kids of Polish-American descent from the United States.
Chris has been a part of PACCF since the late 1990s. He speaks fluent Polish, and personally visits the many organizations that PACCF helps. “Not one of us gets paid; this isn’t our job. It is all volunteer based,” he shared.
PACCF also helps nuns in Tarnow that work with special needs children, as well as the Laski School for Blind Children in Warsaw.
Years ago, a group of women in Poland wanted to start a facility to help children with severe disabilities. “Some kids can’t even get out of bed,” Chris shared. Today, the facility assists about 30 children. A Polish family in the U.S. informed PACCF of this facility in southeast Poland. PACCF donates to help them run the school. The kids put on a play for the visiting PACCF representatives. “It was so great,” Chris smiled, “They were so excited to show us their performance. It’s a good feeling to know that we help them, and then see it all right there in front of us.”
A group of benefactors gives generous donations to help people in Poland and Polish people all over the world. These donations can help with MRIs, medications, blankets and supplies.
From 1981 to 2015, PACCF donated more than $260 million in supplies and aid to Poland. Now, it is nearing an impressive $300 million in donations.
When PACCF sponsors kids to travel to Poland each year, two chaperones also attend, and the group makes time to visit the organizations to which PACCF donates. “We want to make sure the money accomplishes the purpose,” Chris shared.
PACCF’s president, Virginia Sikora, is someone Chris speaks very highly of. Virginia also frequently travels to Poland and visits the many groups, schools and organizations PACCF has helped, or hopes to help. “Without her support, we would have nothing. She is the heart of PACCF,” Chris stated with resolve.
Chris also told a story about a nun in northeast Poland whose preschool for blind children was struggling. She knew that the facility was running out of money. She went to the store, bought a bouquet of roses, took them to a nearby church, and set them on the altar before praying to, at the time, Blessed Padre Pio. Not long after, PACCF showed up. “She was so grateful for our help,” Chris smiled, with a shake of his head.
Now known as Saint Padre Pio, Blessed Padre Pio was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 2002. He was an Italian priest, known for his piety and charity. “Pray, hope and don’t worry,” he often said. Padre Pio passed away in 1968, and over 100,000 people attended his funeral. Chris shared that, in Poland, many people pray to St. Padre Pio.
In 2010, PACCF visited Caritas Polska, the largest Catholic charity in Poland, where they presented a donation of $10,000 to a program called Backpacks Full of Smiles. The funds were used for back-to-school supplies for Polish children affected by the terrible floods in Poland. At the time of their meeting, 5,000 backpacks had been filled, some of which were distributed and others saved for future use.
Chris and the Polish-American Congress Charitable Foundation’s inspiring efforts have helped thousands in need. For more information, visit paccf.org.
Article by Brittany Hans.