County commissioners to join in fundraising to battle poverty

Erica Weisburn

Catholic Charities of Portage County will hold its first Men Who Cook charity fundraiser tomorrow to support the growing number of Portage County families living in poverty.

Last year, Catholic Charities of Portage County assisted 1,800 local families. Deborah Feke, executive director of Catholic Charities of Portage County, expects that number will be substantially higher in 2008.

Families of four with an income of $21,200 or less meet the poverty guideline, according to the 2008 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The guideline for single-person households is $10,400.

“The economy has hit this area hard,” Feke said. “The nation’s rate of poverty has decreased, but within the diocese of Youngstown, it has increased.”

Catholic Charities of Portage County assistance is open to anyone who qualifies, not just Catholics.

“In fact, most people we help aren’t Catholic,” Feke said.

Men Who Cook will be held at the Immaculate Conception Parish Hall at 251 W. Spruce St. in Ravenna from 6 to 9 p.m. It is one of the fundraisers added this year to increase funds.

Tickets for the event are $30. All proceeds from Men Who Cook will help provide immediate help to families who need assistance paying rent, utilities or prescription costs, Feke said. The money also funds school supplies, a need that has doubled since 2006, she said.

“We hope to raise $10,000 at this event,” Feke said. Because this is Catholic Charities of Portage County’s first community fundraiser, Feke said she hopes it will get the charities’ name back into the community.

Nineteen men will participate in the cook-off, including Portage County commissioners Chris Smeiles and Chuck Keiper, U.S. Representative Tim Ryan’s press secretary and local Catholic priests. Each cook must make 300 sample servings, enough to feed the 300 expected guests.

John Roebke, an unofficial adviser for the Catholic Student Association at Kent State, will be representing both the student organization and the University Parish Newman Center at the event. A few Kent State students will join him.

“We are making a wonderfully moist lemon cake,” Roebke said. “I am notorious for my love of desserts and thought it would be appropriate if my team made one for this event.”

Roebke said he hopes the event draws awareness to both Catholic Charities of Portage County and the Catholic Student Association, but more importantly, that “the awareness is drawn to the needs of so many people in our area.”

Portage County Commissioner Maureen Frederick, along with four other women, will choose their favorite dish. Trophies go to both the winner of the competition and the people’s favorite.

Contact public affairs reporter Erica Weisburn at [email protected].