Mayors cap off homeless supply drive with visit to Peter Maurin Center
After over two months of collections, the Stow, Munroe Falls, Cuyahoga Falls and Silver Lake winter supply drive for the homeless has come to an end, with the four mayors visiting the Peter Maurin Center to see first-hand how the donations impacted the community.
Peter Maurin Center volunteer Mike Rauh and Stow Mayor John Pribonic spearheaded the inter-community drive in November, with all donations going to the Peter Maurin Center, a nonprofit organization that offers hot meals, shelter, clothes and comfort to unsheltered and marginalized people.
The drive was specifically intended to help the unsheltered population — people who live in spaces not intended for habitation rather than going in to local shelters — which was expected to increase due to COVID-19 social distancing guidelines.
"The response was excellent," Peter Maurin Center executive director Jim Orenga said. "Everyone wanted to help, and it made everyone aware of what we do. I think because of COVID, people are home and they feel more for the homeless."
"What I heard from residents is that they knew this was a problem, but they just didn't know how to help," Pribonic added. "This gave them a connection and once they knew how to help, the turnout was incredible."
Each of the four communities kept donation bins in their city halls or in their police lobbies, and also held a weekend drive-thru event to collect items and monetary donations.
"It was nonstop for us. We had four hours that was just constant," Munroe Falls Mayor James Armstrong said of his community drive-thru. "We ended up putting a bin in the police lobby and it was always filled. It got to the point that we had to put up a sign because we were told they had more than they could handle."
Cuyahoga Falls Mayor Don Walters said his community was just as generous, and that the maintenance staff often had to remove items because the pile became too big. The same was true in Stow, Pribonic said.
"It was off the charts. It was overwhelming and we had a really great response from the community," Walters said.
"We kept the offices open every day throughout the drive so people could drop stuff off. Our residents were so generous, and we had someone coming three times a week to pick stuff up," said Silver Lake Mayor Bernie Hovey, who visited the Peter Maurin Center later in the day.
Though there is no official count of donations because so many came in from different sources, Rauh said that there was a period of time where he had to go to the four city halls twice a week to clear out donations. Center director Dave Churbock estimated that they received about $1,500 in monetary donations from the four communities.
"This went crazy, and we're still trying to find a place to put all the blankets, sleeping bags, tents and tarps. We were inundated and busting at the seams," Rauh said. "Who knows how many fewer people are freezing to death this winter because we are able to throw so many blankets on them? We are saving lives because of that."
Rauh stored donations in his garage, in an empty condo and at a church while they organized the donations, many of which were brand new, before bringing them to the Peter Maurin Center. Even then, all the donations could not fit in the Peter Maurin Center's packed basement.
Volunteer Sandy Agosta said that they are working to network with other like-minded organizations to distribute as many supplies as possible.
"I felt guilty that so much was coming to Peter Maurin, so we're passing our excess off to groups that have the same goals as us," Agosta of Firestone Park said. "I have children's boots and no call for them, so I'll be bringing them to a church giveaway. There's no point in storing things when people could be using them."
The four mayors had initially intended the supply drive to be a friendly competition to see who could garner the most donations, but they soon realized there was no way to measure generosity. Originally, the two "losing" mayors were going to wear the winners' school colors.
"It was kind of a phony bet, because we all graduated from Falls High anyways," Armstrong said.
"And when we saw how much we got, it didn't matter," Pribonic said. "It was successful no matter what, and we'd like to do it again next year."
"I think the world is made of good people, and I think they're definitely willing to help," Hovey added.
Reporter Krista S. Kano can be reached at 330-635-7546, email@example.com or on Twitter @KristaKanoABJ.