Salvatore helps cut ribbon on new bathrooms at Gierlach Post

From left, Andrew Laurie, past commander Frank L. Gierlach Post 1320; Erie County Clerk Michael “Mickey” Kearns; Russell J. Salvatore; Veteran Michael Budowski; Kenneth MacKay, President American Institute of Architects (AIA) Buffalo Chapter; Robert Stark, past president AIA; Rich Pulaski, Commander, Gierlach Post. Mr. Salvatore and Mr. Budowski cut the ribbon for the new handicap accessible rest rooms funded by Mr. Salvatore. (Photo by Michael J. Billoni, Contributor)
From left, Andrew Laurie, past commander Frank L. Gierlach Post 1320; Erie County Clerk Michael “Mickey” Kearns; Russell J. Salvatore; Veteran Michael Budowski; Kenneth MacKay, President American Institute of Architects (AIA) Buffalo Chapter; Robert Stark, past president AIA; Rich Pulaski, Commander, Gierlach Post. Mr. Salvatore and Mr. Budowski cut the ribbon for the new handicap accessible rest rooms funded by Mr. Salvatore. (Photo by Michael J. Billoni, Contributor)

SLOAN – The Buffalo Chapter of the American Institute of Architects announced Friday that it would begin an urgent handicap accessibility focus for veterans posts in Erie County following the tragic death of 87-year-old Korean War Veteran Norman Racki.

Mr. Racki fell down the stairs at the American Legion Post 721 at 136 Cazenovia Street in Buffalo because it was not handicap accessible.

As part of the project, new handicap accessible restrooms were dedicated inside Frank L. Gierlach Post 1320 at 50 Gates Street in Sloan.  The project was funded by the generous donation of Russell J. Salvatore, founder of Russell’s Steaks Chops & More, a philanthropist and a veteran.

The Veteran Post Restoration of Erie County, NY Inc. today presented Russell J. Salvatore with its first “Milestone Flag,” signifying the first $10,000 raised to improve and modernize local veteran posts.

Mr. Salvatore was selected to receive the first Milestone Flag for all he has done for veterans in WNY. His philanthropic efforts include building the Heroes & Patriots Park in front of his restaurant on Transit Road and for providing a fleet of vehicles for the VA Hospital to transport veterans, in addition to many other acts of kindness and donations that he has made to veterans organizations over the years.

The Gierlach Post was built in the 1970s by its members. During the era in which it was constructed, there were not the same regulations as there are today for handicapped accessibility in public buildings. Today, a majority of Post 1320’s members are older and unable to repair or renovate the building. For many of its members, it has been difficult or impossible for them to use the restrooms at the post and as a result, they could not stay long for activities and functions, or could not visit the Post at all. By making the restrooms handicapped accessible, the Post will be able to accommodate current members and also attract new ones who have limitations due to injuries.

The Veterans Post Restoration (VPR) of Erie County, NY Inc, began as a result of when Erie County Clerk Michael “Mickey” Kearns was a member of the New York State Assembly and was approached by members of several veterans posts in the county who were concerned about the aging building and lack of handicap accessibility.

“We are so thankful of the efforts of Russ Salvatore, for his continuous support of our veterans in WNY and we are so happy with the news from the AIA which will allow us to seek more funding to make these Posts handicapped accessible for all veterans.  We are doing this because our veterans deserve better,” said Mr. Kearns.

Mr. Kearns secured $250,000 for an elevator for Post 721 on Cazenovia Street as an Assemblyman and is a volunteer member of the VPR Advisory Board.  The veterans have been raising money with their “Flag Fundraiser” by selling paper flags for a dollar each at the Erie County Auto Bureaus.  Mr. Kearns and VPR President Gary Oakes and Vice President Jerry Kowalski said Friday’s announcement will accelerate its fund-raising efforts to local foundations, corporations, and organizations so it can achieve handicap accessibility for all of its posts.

“This has been a long time coming for us and a tremendous result after the long hours we have been spending selling flags for $1.00 at the Auto Bureaus,” Mr. Kowalski said.  “These veterans posts have been ignored for a long, long time and it is wonderful to see results like we are this morning because of Mr. Salvatore’s gift.”

“We are so appreciative of Mr. Salvatore’s generosity because now our members and guests with disabilities can use the restroom at the Post,” Mr. Oakes added.

The Veterans Post Restoration of Erie County, NY Inc, is a not-for-profit comprised of American Legion, AMVETS, 40&8, Marine Corps League and VFW posts around Erie County who are working collaboratively to address their shared needs. Its goal, through Operation Appreciation, is to repair and upgrade these posts in order to pass them down to the next generation of veterans.

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