Big Hearts Help Geauga Hunger Task Force
September 28, 2022 by Rose Nemunaitis

The Great Geauga County Fair bicentennial celebration may be over, but the big-hearted dedication of 4H clubs and Dr. Augustine Kellis to those in need continues.

The Great Geauga County Fair bicentennial celebration may be over, but the big-hearted dedication of 4H clubs and Dr. Augustine Kellis to those in need continues.

“The miracle of their efforts to change and/or save lives right here in this community is nothing less than outstanding,” said Sue Juhasz, president of the Geauga Hunger Task Force.

The history of 4H helping out the food insecure began eight years ago, when the first “Bunny 4H Club” raised $2,000 for the GHTF, which serves the emergency food needs of Geauga County with a coalition of churches and social service agencies.

“We were amazed and grateful for so much to have come from one club,” Juhasz said.

She called the following year “an amazing coincidence,” as Dan Takacs — a high school student in 4H leadership and son of Newbury family practitioner Dr. Steven Takacs — worked for Kellis at the time.

Kellis recalled Dan’s first inquiry about committing to help GHTF.

“I told him I was very careful about where I donated my money because I wanted to make sure it did a lot of good,” Kellis said.

That led Kellis to learn more about the nonprofit group and become a board member.

“I found out that the task force uses every penny of every donation to do good in our community,” Kellis said. “Very few charities have this type of track record.”

The following year, Dan asked him to match his collections from 4H and Kellis agreed to match their funds up to $20,000.

They worked out a way to host food drives and each item was assigned a value, as part of the challenge.

Since then, they’ve raised $251,951 in funds and consumable items, Juhasz said.

All this happened during a time The Messiah Benefit, an event that, for 30 years, raised funds during the holiday season for GHTF, came to an end in 2020.

“The members of the (Good Tidings Benefit) Choir were so worried about the loss of the funds from their benefits,” said Juhasz. “As the producer of that choir, I can say that these (4H club) young people have taken the baton and moved on.”

GHTF serves more than 1,000 individuals a month through the work of more than 140 volunteers at five pantries in Burton, Chagrin Falls, Chardon, Chester Township and Middlefield, and have expanded through annual grants to additional partnerships with organizations supporting their mission, Juhasz said.

Pantry clients receive a week’s supply of food for balanced, nutritious meals.

Heidi O’Neill — whose daughter, Jayme, a Kenston High School senior, helped raise funds with 4H group Greener Fields — said it’s really nice how all this philanthropy started.

“These kids have done a great thing and it all started with Danny Takacs and Dr. Kellis,” O’Neill said. “Amazing stuff.”

Greener Fields holds several food and money drives at Church of Holy Angels in Chagrin Falls, as well as a drive each year at First National Bank. They also have collections at Walmart in Middlefield and notify residents via the Nextdoor App of collection drives.

“Then, they would drive around and collect whoever responded,” O’Neill said. “We put food collection boxes in all the libraries each year, notify all the other 4H clubs about the drive and they either raise food or money. What this process teaches the kids is that they need to support their community and the people around them. It’s the old saying, ‘charity begins at home,’ and this is as close to home as we can get.”

Christine Belliveau, Greener Fields organizational adviser and food drives project manager, said service to others is important and a priority to 4H.

“It’s become real to a lot of our members,” she said. “It’s great to see the kids help and serve others and to lead.”

Jayme has been the most recent 4H leader to hold the torch.

“This past year, Jayme collected over $28,000, which was outstanding,” Kellis said.

Since their joint venture started, Kellis has helped raise more than one-quarter of a million dollars with the 4H match to provide food for those in need.

“To those whom much is given, much is expected,” Kellis said. “I have provided ophthalmology and oculoplastic surgical services to our community for 27 years. This community embraced me and my practice from the very beginning and I am extremely indebted for the ongoing support. God directed me to practice in the most amazing community in America.”

Kellis said his patients have become like family members to him and the other doctors in his practice.

“Unfortunately, many of my patients have had to use the services provided by the hunger task force,” Kellis said. “It does my heart good to know that they are cared for. Hopefully, we can continue to provide food for all those in need in our community. I hope that this would put a little smile on Jesus’ face as he sees his children caring for each other.”