CHESTERTON | Area fundraising professionals gathered Thursday at Sand Creek Country Club to honor the people and organizations that lead philanthropy efforts in the region.
The 5th annual National Philanthropy Day awards luncheon, presented by the Association of Fundraising Professionals Northwest Indiana Chapter, recognized Susan Cohen, Strack & Van Til and the Foundations of East Chicago.
First celebrated in 1986, National Philanthropy Day recognizes individuals, organizations and foundations that make an impact with their charitable activities, said AFP President Cindy Hall, an executive director of resource development at Ivy Tech Community College.
Cohen, of Gary, received an individual philanthropist award for her work with Sojourner Truth House, a day center for homeless and at-risk women and children in Gary.
Cohen has volunteered at Sojourner for the past 15 years. In 2003, she initiated the first Womenade event to raise money for the organization.
Based on a national model, Womenade has raised $50,000 for Sojourner by bringing women together at potluck suppers and other events.
Cohen said she began volunteering at Sojourner as a cook and has performed a variety of duties there over the years.
“I was blessed to find a niche,” she said. “The rhythm at Sojourner Truth House is so full and rich.”
Strack & Van Til, a grocery store chain serving Northwest Indiana and Chicagoland, received a corporate philanthropist award.
Jeff Strack, vice president of operations for Strack & Van Til, said his company supports organizations and events that enhance the local quality of life.
Strack's grandfather, Ernie, and Nick Van Til had stores in the region 80 years ago and opened their first store together in October 1960 in Highland. Today, the company is Northwest Indiana's largest independent grocery operator.
“Giving back to the community is very important to us,” Strack said.
The Foundations of East Chicago, an organization dedicated to improving the quality of life in East Chicago, received a foundation philanthropist award.
Executive Director Russell Taylor said since its creation in 1997, Foundations has built an endowment of more than $20 million, granted $34 million and issued nearly 700 scholarships. It also has invested in more than 250 agencies that serve and support the community, he said.
Taylor said Foundations is embarking on a new initiative to help the city’s nonprofits expand their ability to meet the prenatal-through-death needs of residents.
Describing the effort as a “super collaboration,” Taylor said the goal is to bring agencies together to find solutions to the root causes of issues such as joblessness and low-educational attainment, while encouraging improved physical and mental health.
“The work of philanthropy is never done,” Taylor said. “It needs to be constantly reinvented.”