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Woman pays it forward to couple who helped homeless vet

January 26, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
After hearing about our revamped Pay It Forward campaign last week, Melanie Allen of Victorville eagerly jumped online to tell us about her old friends, Jan and Kenny Katchka, our first Pay It Forward winners from Facebook.

The Katchkas have a history of paying it forward to people they don't know, most notably a homeless veteran they called Grandpa Gilbert.

Get more information on the ABC7 Pay It Forward campaign

Kenny Katchka first met Gilbert outside an Anaheim burger restaurant and offered to buy him lunch. After finding out about Gilbert's past as a veteran, Kenny called Jan to tell her his new friend needed help. Without hesitation, Jan welcomed Gilbert into their home.

For the next 12 years, the Katchkas looked after Gilbert as one of their own. They helped him get back on his feet, and found him a home and medical care.

"He became their grandpa," Allen said. "They were always there for him when he was in the hospital."

Then, Gilbert died. Soon after Gilbert's death, Kenny developed a serious illness of his own that forced him to miss work for six months. His medical bills are now piling up, and that's where Allen wants to help.

"It's their turn to finally get something back in return," she said.

Jan Katchka answered her front door Thursday to find Allen standing there with $500.

"I am here to pay it forward," Allen said to her. "Everything you have done for everybody, you're always helping every single person, animals included. I'm here to give you $500 to help pay for your rent, and absolutely everything you guys need."

With a surprised, glowing grin, Jan thanked Allen.

"My car broke down; it's one thing after another. This is the first nice thing that's happened in a real long time!" Jan said.

Meanwhile, Kenny reflected on the first time he met Grandpa Gilbert, homeless and hopeless.

"Whether you're a veteran or not, it's just not right. I couldn't turn my back from that," he said. "If I was in that dilemma, I would hope someone would be there for me."

Kenny said knowing Gilbert was a blessing.

"If I never do anything right again in life, this is richer than lotto. The man, he passed this year, and he was in a better place. He got to go out with dignity," he said.

Now, in Kenny's time of need, the whole family is grateful for this surprise.

"My feeling is, it's good, never give up. At some point you'll catch a break, I like to think we caught a break today," Kenny said.

Want to Pay It Forward? Tell us who you think deserves $500 on the Pay It Forward tab on our Facebook page. Every week until March 30, 2012, one person will be selected at random to receive $500 to Pay It Forward.