Churches, United Way, businesses join to help Taft kids


A partnership between two downtown churches and United Way of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley aims to help students at Taft Elementary School, 730 E. Avondale Ave.

The Rev. Gayle Catinella, rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church, 323 Wick Ave., and the Rev. Rebecca Anne Kahnt, pastor of First Presbyterian Church, 201 Wick Ave., first collaborated on a backpack project last year to help 50 third- and fourth-graders at Taft.

“We sent backpacks home filled with food with the students,” Pastor Catinella said of the churches’ effort. “But we found this wasn’t an efficient method.”

So, the churches partnered with United Way under the Taft Promise Neighborhood umbrella to make a difference. On Tuesday, as part of a regular monthly giveaway, more than 100 big boxes of food and some 120 hams were distributed to Taft students’ families. “There’s enough food to feed four people for a week,” Pastor Catinella said of each box. At Thanksgiving, some 200 frozen turkeys were distributed.

“We want to be part of the solution in helping people,” said Pastor Kahnt. She noted First Presbyterian’s mission committee has supplied its volunteers.

“We wanted to embrace being a church in Youngstown and be a presence in the community. We see it as living our call as Christians,” she said.

The food pantry is funded by $9,000 from the two churches and matching money from United Way. Food comes from Second Harvest Food Bank of Mahoning Valley.

Laura Weymer, director of community impact, said the food pantry is one component in Taft Promise Neighborhood programs that include Success After 6. Youngstown Community School served as the pilot school for the program that provides tutoring, physical fitness, arts and warm meals.

Taft Promise Neighborhood initiative, according to United Way information, is a “coalition of residents, parents, educators, faith institutions, businesses and community organizations ... working to stabilize and revitalize” the Taft school area on the South Side.

Read more about the efforts in Wednesday's Vindicator or on

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