As Chris Bilyk pulls a shipping label off the printer he says, “I’m a one man show." Moments later Bilyk slides a gray t-shirt into a bag and seals the end.
“This one is going to Miami Beach,” Bilyk says proudly. “I’ve never done anything like this. I’ve never worked for myself.”
Bilyk is the founder of State of Gratitude USA, a t-shirt and apparel company whose corporate headquarters resides in a closet in the spare bedroom of his home.
Not bad when you consider the company was started just a few short months ago using Bilyk’s government stimulus check.
“I had no idea what I was doing,” Bilyk said with a laugh. " I just bought $1200 worth of shirts."
The closet is stocked with shirts, hats, water bottles and decals. Everything has a State of Gratitude logo.
Bilyk is learning on the job and trying to take a bad situation and help others at the same time.
“COVID and the pandemic kind of gave me the time to work through an idea that maybe would have only remained and idea had this pandemic not occurred.”
Bilyk’s idea was to market a brand around the concept of gratitude and give part of the profits back to the addiction recovery community.
“I used to tell people to live in a state of gratitude as I was getting sober myself,” he continued. “Okay, things aren’t going the way you planned but remember the positive things.”
Bilyk lost his job in the hospitality industry when the nationwide shutdown occurred.
“So many times in my life I’ve been like 'doing something like this would be cool,” Bilyk remembers. “But when you’re living a fast paced lifestyle it just kind of gets in the way.”
Bilyk reflects on how that lifestyle brought him to this point.
“I just threw up my hands in surrender,” Bilyk said. “I didn’t even have the energy to deny the fact that I had a problem with alcohol and drugs. That was the moment everything changed for me.”
Bilyk entered treatment and recovery and that’s where he realized many of the people he met in meetings had exhausted all their income and savings before getting to that point.
“I noticed many of my peers were worried about how they were going to pay this months rent or put food in their refrigerator or pay their phone bill,” Bilyk said.
So when he started his company he did it with an eye towards philanthropy. Bilky has promised 25% of sales will go toward a quarterly grant of $500 to eligible applicants.
The first recipient was Kevin Voeltz, who moved to Orlando from Colorado to enter a treatment facility.
“When I came out here I only had $150 in my pocket,” Voetlz said in a video interview. “The first couple of months I was struggling on how I was going to pay my phone bill.”
Voeltz said the grant gave him a cushion so he could concentrate on his sobriety. He says being chosen also motivates him.
“It challenges me to succeed even more, so I can be one of those success stories to other people," Voeltz said. "I want to set an example.”
Back in Bilyk’s spare bedroom, orders continue to come in slowly.
"I would love this to grow into something bigger, " Bilyk said. “You don’t have to be in recovery to live in a state of gratitude.”