Rick and Sharon Dunnington of Richland Township may not have any children of their own, but thousands of area youngsters and their families have benefited from their generosity.
Area organizations and nonprofits know the Dunningtons are good people to have in their corner when it comes to the business of helping others.
The couple have been looking out for the less fortunate for nearly 30 years by donating time, talent, money and a mountain of goods to ease people’s pain.
They have delivered countless gifts they bought at their own expense to the Alternative Community Resource Program (ACRP), The Salvation Army, Windber’s Christmas for Kids toy drive and the Women’s Help Center, to name a few.
The Dunningtons estimate that they spend as much as $15,000 a year buying items for people in need, especially children.
Rick, 70, is a retired U.S. government employee, and Sharon, 68, is retired as a clerical worker in the private sector.
To this philanthropic couple, retirement only means more time to help others.
The Dunningtons come from modest backgrounds and have seen difficult times.
“There are children out there who don’t have anything, and we enjoy giving them something,” Sharon Dunnington said.
So that means they are constantly on the lookout for bargains.
“It doesn’t matter what time of year it is, if something is on sale and we know that there is a child out there who can use it, we buy it,” Rick Dunnington said.
The Dunningtons are active at Richland Christian Church. When their church asked members donate school supplies to needy children, they stepped forward.
They realized every child has a wish list before going back to school, but instead of smaller items, the Dunningtons thought that one item a child would enjoy is a backpack.
“We know that it is essential that the children have writing materials, crayons and lunchboxes, but we think giving them a backpack will do a lot for their self-esteem,” Sharon Dunnington said.
They now buy nearly 20 a year for needy pupils.
They once bought coats for 99 cents that normally cost $15.
They remember one remarkable outing when they went to Sears and bought $3,600 worth of clothing for $150.
“We had four shopping carts at a time, and we were shuttling clothes from the racks to the cashier,” Rick Dunnington said. “It took us two hours to check out.”
Sales associates who are familiar with the Dunningtons’ mission often point out bargains in the store that may interest them.
“Shoppers also will stop us and give us tips, and we have two couples who give us a check each year in order for us to buy items from them,” Sharon Dunnington said.
Size and color do not matter when looking for a bargain.
Sharon Dunnington once bought 15 pairs of slippers.
“A lot of kids out there need our help,” she said. “Because we never had children, we often see that some kids have nothing and treasure something as simple as a pair of slippers, shoes or a baby doll.”
The couple have supported the Women’s Help Center in a multitude of ways for nearly 20 years.
Help Center Executive Director Susan S. Shahade remembers the Dunningtons first making contact with her in response to a plea for volunteers to assist with the center’s first Extravaganza.
The fundraiser showcases samples from area restaurants, gift merchants and musical entertainment.
“Not only did Rick and Sharon step forward to help, but they offered to wash dishes at the inaugural event, which was attended by more than 400 individuals,” Shahade said. “It was a tremendous, yet dirty, task that went off without a hitch.”
Six additional Extravaganzas were sponsored by the Help Center.
“Rick and Sharon worked the dirty dish area at each and every Extravaganza, even as it grew to attract more than 600 guests,” Shahade said.
She was quick to point out that the Dunningtons have assisted the center in many other ways.
They participate in the Help an Angel in Shelter program every year, the Light Up the Night Project, the Peace Garden, the Children’s Garden and the tapas party. They serve as sponsors at anniversary dinners, donate toward the annual basket party and the endowment fund, and have even played Santa Claus for the children residing in the emergency shelter.
“They are genuine, kind, thoughtful and loving people,” Shahade said. “They give from their very souls. The Women’s Help Center is honored to have their ongoing support and grateful to call them friends.”
They sometimes get to see the results of their generosity.
They attended an ACRP Christmas party where items were distributed.
“The kids wanted me to sit on Santa’s lap,” Rick Dunnington said.
“We have received thank you notes from children using crayons to write a heartfelt message.”
While Rick Dunnington had a stroke in 2012, he has made a full recovery and they continue to shop.
“I have some short-term memory lapses, but otherwise feel fine,” he said.
The Windber Police Department conducts a Christmas for Kids party each year and the Dunningtons are involved.
Windber police Chief Richard Skiles has known the Dunnigtons for decades.
“For as long as I can remember, Rick and Sharon Dunnington have been major contributors by donating money, bicycles and other gifts for the kids,” Skiles said. “They are two honest, sincere and caring individuals whose help is second to none.”
Tom Lavis covers Features for the Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter.com/Tom LavisTD.