SHARPSVILLE, Pa. (AP) — Ken Miller did not start giving away flags at Hometown Homemade Pizza to make a statement — and he wasn’t commenting on anyone’s protest.
He just wanted other people in his community — and anyone who was coming to pick up a pizza for dinner anyway — to have the chance to get a flag of their own, free of charge.
It was important to him, the lifelong resident of Sharpsville said. And it was a chance to give back.
“I’ve been thinking of doing something like this for a while,” Miller said.
He started by purchasing 18 flags and the kits to mount them from local businesses. Where they came from was important to him, too.
OnTuesday, Miller and his staff at the pizzeria offered anyone who wanted one a flag, whether they bought a pizza or not.
The first day about half a dozen customers took home new flags.
“They thought it was a great idea,” he said.
Assistant Manager Nick Piccirilli said the first customer he spoke to was a veteran who saw the post on Facebook and came in to get a flag.
“We’ve gotten to have some pleasant talks with people about the flag,” Piccirilli said.
So far the response from the community has been overwhelmingly positive.
“I think this is a nice thing to do for the community, and to have pride in our country,” he said.
Hometown Homemade Pizza employee Mitchell Swartz said someone else just came in to get a flag. And that was just fine, Miller said. No purchase was required to get a free flag.
“He was very thankful to see people appreciate the flag and who were thankful of the veterans,” Swartz said.
When the flags run out, Miller said he will purchase more if people still want them.
“I think more than ever today, we need something to bring us all together,” Miller said of the American flag. “Since I was a little kid, that was always the thing that could. I’m hoping it hasn’t changed.”
And handing out flags brought Miller a welcome piece of family history. Turns out he is not the only family member to have come up with the idea.
An uncle who came to help him buy the flags told him that his grandfather, Ray Chamberlain, did something similar years ago.
After World War II, Miller’s grandfather did some recruitment for the U.S. Army and used to drive around the Shenango Valley. When he came upon someone with a weathered flag, Chamberlain would give them a new one and properly dispose of the old one.
“I didn’t know he did that until I got the flags,” Miller said.
Flags are not the only contribution Hometown Homemade Pizza will make to the community this year.
The store also is collecting donations for the Department of Veterans Affairs in Butler. So far, about $250 is in the jar. Hometown Homemade Pizza will match whatever is donated up to $1,000, Miller said.
The pizzeria rotates between donations for the VA, the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Buhl Park and the Salvation Army. Next year, the beneficiary will be Buhl Park.
“Every year, we’ll pick a different organization to donate to,” Miller said.