Natalie's Everyday Heroes: Ralph Malicki hosts café for veterans at Racine grocery store

NOW: Natalie’s Everyday Heroes: Ralph Malicki hosts café for veterans at Racine grocery store

RACINE, Wis. (CBS 58) -- Every Thursday, Ralph Malicki holds a café for veterans at his grocery store in Racine. The vets come in, have a cup of coffee, and maybe a donut -- but maybe most importantly, they get to spend time together.

It's a simple thing that creates a strong sense of community. It's also one of many things Malicki does to make his community a better place.

"It's a place for us to talk to somebody who knows what we went through," said Stan Kogutkiewicz.

Veterans from as far back as World War II get together at Malicki's Piggly Wiggly on Washington Avenue. For Don Larsen and his brother, Dan, it's a way to keep up with friends.

"Some people that we were in the service with live around town, never see them. Everybody's schedule is different," Larsen said. "But if they have time, they can come out on Thursday from 8-11 and as you can see, we just have a great time socializing."

Malicki started hosting the veterans café about five years ago.

"We were so glad to be able to start getting together again," one of the men said to Malicki. "Aww, it was a long year, wasn't it," he replied.

They just started holding the café again recently. It had to be put on hold because of the pandemic. It's clear how much the men missed it.

"We just have a great time coming out. The pandemic really put the crunch to it all, but we're back and running again," Larsen said.

It's clear how much they appreciate Malicki's efforts.

"The guy's incredible, I know that," exclaimed John Anderson.

But don’t try to tell that to Ralph.

"You have no idea how much we appreciate this," one man said to Malicki.

"I know, because you guys say thank you every week, and you don't need to," Malicki assured him.

Malicki may not want the thanks, but plenty of people want to say it.

"Ralph is like one in a million. Racine is very, very lucky to have Ralph," said employment specialist Trish Wimer.

Wimer works for Careers Industries, helping those with disabilities find jobs.

"He has given us the opportunity to come into his location and we can train in any department in the store," she said.

Over the years, Wimer estimates she's placed hundreds of employees here.

"We can do cashiers, baggers, stocking, the meat department," she said, listing off departments. "It's been a win-win for everybody."

Tim Mason has gotten to know Malicki through Malicki's work on the board at the Racine County Zoo.

"He's always the first one to want to help someone when there's a need.," Mason said.

Malicki is involved with the zoo, the Racine County Food Bank, the United Way -- just to name a few. As a lifelong Racine resident, he knows his community.

"You see people at their best time, you see them at their worst time," Malicki said. "You know when this customer is going to come in at this time of the week, or that time of the day. You just know."

His goal is to make Racine the best community it can be.

"A grocery is an extension of the community, no matter what. I mean, the super-super markets, right down to the corner store," he said.

It's a place where people naturally come and chat.

"As you look around, you can just see that everybody enjoys coming out," said Larsen.

And that's what Malicki enjoys.

"It's just a way to participate in the community, and I always kind of live by, if you're going to talk the talk, walk the walk. So, be involved," he said.

The Racine County Economic Development Corporation also recently named Malicki the Sam Johnson Volunteer of the Year.

If you'd like to nominate someone for Natalie's Everyday Heroes, send Natalie a message at [email protected].

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