First lady addresses UW, visits Valley food bank

Ohio First Lady Fran DeWine, left, holds a bag of oranges while volunteers from Church Hill United Methodist Church in Liberty, from left, Sharon Wathen,Julia Catchpole, Audrey Williams, Kim Quinlan and Dan Wathen assemble for a photo during DeWine's visit to Second Harvest Food Bank of Mahoning Valley Thursday afternoon. The Church Hill United Methodist group was the first to volunteer at the Salt Springs Road food bank since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Thursday packaged 5,000 pounds of oranges.

POLAND — One day last August, Matt Mrozek was busy volunteering to make a monthly food delivery to those in need before fulfilling another large item on his to-do list for that day: getting married.

“I decided to still partake in it, even though it was cutting it close to the start of the festivities before the ceremony,” Mrozek, of Poland, recalled.

Mrozek, a pharmacist with The Hometown Pharmacy in Columbiana, delivered food to residents on Youngstown’s East Side on behalf of the United Way of Youngstown and Mahoning Valley, for which he was recognized during the agency’s annual meeting Thursday evening at The Lake Club, 1140 Paulin Road.

His father was active with United Way, which ignited Mrozek’s desire and passion at a young age to volunteer for the agency. Mrozek added he greatly admires his father, which created “the perfect fit” for him to volunteer.

A sellout crowd of about 500 attended the program and dinner, at which an estimated 100 area organizations and agencies were represented, Bob Hannon, UW’s executive director, noted.

The United Way of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley raised a campaign total of $3,476,600, the most money ever raised in an annual campaign in the local agency’s 102-year history, said Hannon, who also praised the agency’s estimated 500 volunteers, who include high school and college students.

During the pandemic, UW volunteers delivered food to about 400 families each month, he added.

Hannon also gave accolades to UW’s Success by 6 program in which more than 600 children in 19 school districts receive help to be better prepared for kindergarten. In addition, the initiative assists children who have vision problems in an effort to help them succeed in school.

He also discussed a report card mentoring effort designed to provide some students with added motivation to improve their grades.

“We’re trying to find gaps and meet needs, but we need volunteers to do it,” Hannon said, noting that UW funds about 35 area agencies and organizations.

The keynote speaker was Ohio’s first lady Fran DeWine, who praised Imagination Library, a Sevierville, Tenn.-based childhood literacy initiative that country singer Dolly Parton launched in 1995 in which free books are mailed once per month to children from birth to age 5, regardless of income.

DeWine partnered with Parton, which led to the Ohio Governor’s Imagination Library.

This year, about 6,500 children have received books, she said, adding that of Ohio’s 88 counties, Mahoning County has the largest number of kids enrolled in the program.

“We wanted every Ohio child to be eligible for these books at no cost to the families,” said DeWine. “Kids grow up only once, and they grow up fast.”

To learn more about Imagination Library, go to www.ohioimaginationlibrary.org

Also, Imagination Library has partnered with the Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County, Roxann Sebest, UW’s resource development director, said.

“Literacy is one of our main focuses,” she added.

Also at the meeting, Sebest handed awards to a few companies and foundations, as well as for campaign and labor leadership and volunteer excellence. A Women’s United Community Leader Award also was presented.

In addition, Valley Christian and Boardman high schools received a Rising Star Award, John and Denise DeBartolo York were given UW’s first Humble Hero Award, and Ed Muransky and his family were the recipients of this year’s Impact Leadership Award.

Also Thursday, Scott and Erica Fleming of Canfield were named 2022 United Way campaign chairs, replacing Chris and Lisa Sammartino, who served last year in that capacity.

Hannon said that one of UW’s primary plans for this year is to add a volunteer resource center in Boardman, though he provided no further details.

“It’s going to be a game changer for us for many, many reasons,” he added.

Earlier in the day, DeWine stopped at Second Harvest Food Bank of the Mahoning Valley, where she met volunteers from Church Hill United Methodist, a Liberty church. The group was the first to volunteer at the pantry on Salt Springs Road since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sharon Wathen said the group, which runs its own monthly church food pantry and assists with the food pantry for Liberty schools, last volunteered at Second Harvest in September 2019.

On Thursday, 13 Church Hill United Methodist volunteers packaged 5,000 pounds of oranges in about two hours.

“Those oranges will ultimately go out to pantries like ours,” Wathen said. “Second Harvest is a fabulous resource and we love being able to help them.”

DeWine talked with volunteers about their church and school pantries and gave them copies of her cookbook, “Fran DeWine and Dolly Parton present Our Family Favorites.”

DeWine said the cookbooks are a way to sign up for the Ohio Governor’s Imagination Library.

“I find people don’t throw away cookbooks,” DeWine said.

DeWine said 44 percent of eligible children are signed up for the program.

Of reading, DeWine said, “Besides food, it’s probably the most important thing you can do.”



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