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The Chardon Rotary Club recently launched a fundraiser to help the nonprofit Claridon Community Helps! The group prepares and delivers homemade lunches to children who have been at home since school buildings were close in March. Karen Holschuh of Burton Township whips up some batches of cupcakes in the First Congregational Church of Claridon kitchen for the lunches. She is one of many volunteers in the community group.

When Claridon Community Helps! recently hit a budget shortfall after expanding its lunch deliveries to children, one of the volunteers used her credit card to keep the program going.

“The facet of being urgent is huge at this point, because they are running out of money,” Chardon Rotarian Steve Turpin said about the program.

That is one reason the Chardon Rotary foundation launched a fundraiser for the nonprofit helping children out of school early due to COVID-19 precautions taken by the state.

Mr. Turpin explained that the foundation has accrued $6,925 for the cause so far, with his group matching the first $10,000 donated through checks and their Geauga Pandemic Relief Fund page on GoFundMe at bit.ly/gprfund. Anyone interested in donating can mail a check addressed to the Chardon Rotary Foundation to PO Box 302, Chardon, Ohio 44024.

Mr. Turpin said the goal is to raise $35,000 for the program by June 15, which would allow the nonprofit to continue operating the lunch program through the end of the summer.

“Everybody is so thankful,” said Judi Maloney, a volunteer with Claridon Community Helps! “We have those that are on unemployment, so that threw off their finances, then we have those that didn’t receive unemployment yet.”

The nonprofit launched a Now That’s What I’m Talking About Summer Lunch program in 2019, to deliver nutritional meals to children in Claridon Township and the areas covered by Berkshire, Cardinal and Newbury local school districts throughout June, July and August free of charge. Last year, Mrs. Maloney said the nonprofit gave out 2,850 meals throughout the entire 11 weeks of summer. Between March 16 when schools were closed by the governor and May 12, the nonprofit made and distributed 5,106 lunches to community members.

Through the program, students can pick up hot meals at their designated delivery locations on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays; bagged lunches also will be distributed on Mondays and Wednesdays to be eaten on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Mrs. Maloney and ten other volunteers prepare the meals each morning at First Congregational Church of Claridon after the congregation offered its kitchen to the nonprofit.

“I worked closely with Judi to understand where she was getting funding now, how much she was expecting on a monthly basis and how does it look for the next four, five, six months,” Mr. Turpin explained. “And she was extremely open, showed me all the numbers.”

He said that the Rotary, an organization designed to give money to local assemblies in events like the current pandemic, compiled a list of other causes that could use some extra funding. Mr. Turpin said, out of the 10 various philanthropic entities he presented to the Rotary, members voted for the Claridon lunch program “hands down” because of its overall impact on the township, especially the children.

“I think it was feeding the kids at a time of double whammy,” he said. “Double whammy meaning you’re already feeding kids because of the fact that school was out sooner than expected by months. So these kids are home, they have to get fed, and then the impact of people losing their jobs, so now families don’t have the money to feed kids and [Rotary members] saw the need to skyrocket once the pandemic kicked in.”

The program called “Now That’s What I’m Talking About” initially covered the Berkshire Local School District when it started in 2019, Mrs. Maloney added. This year, the programming will be expanding into the Newbury and Cardinal school districts. She said that Cardinal and Newbury both are paying bus drivers to deliver meals to students’ homes through the end of the academic year May 26 and June 2, respectively.

“Our goal this year was to expand it into Cardinal school district because they have the highest rate of reduced lunches in Geauga County,” she said. “Newbury has the third-highest rate.”

Mrs. Maloney said that parents and caretakers can apply for the free lunch program by either calling her at 440-321-5596 or by visiting claridoncommunityhelps.org. Adults only need to supply their contact information and address along with their student’s name and age to register.

She said the lunch program has also been boosted thanks to a $5,000 grant from the Cleveland Foundation, which will be used to purchase food as well as the insulated bags and containers needed to package the lunches. The nonprofit also used a $2,500 donation from Hope for Kids Geauga, a local charity that helps abused and neglected children in the county, to replace their freezer, which was more than 30 years old.

One of the helpful things about using GoFundMe, Mr. Turpin said, is that the Rotary is able to transfer the money along with the Rotary’s matching donations directly to the nonprofit on a monthly basis.

“They went into the red this past couple of weeks. [Judi is] funding this off of her credit card right now,” Mr. Turpin said.

As of May 12, Mrs. Maloney said that Claridon Community Helps! had spent a total of $16,397.42 on food and packaging in 2020. But, even with the challenges she’s facing, Mrs. Maloney hasn’t cut back on the quality of the food she makes from scratch; just last week, she made a banana French toast bake using some bread the Geauga Hunger Task Force donated.

“I think it really pulls at the heartstrings,” Mr. Turpin said, “and if you’re talking about kids, they didn’t have any skin in the game.”

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