Marietta-based Peoples Bank made the largest charitable gift in the company’s 118-year history to Children’s Hunger Alliance (CHA) of $50,000. Thanks to Chuck Sulerzyski, president and CEO of Peoples Bank, asking his colleagues at FIS and JobsOhio to join him in supporting CHA’s mission, their combined donation totaled $100,000.
Peoples Bank presented the $100,000 check to CHA on May 7 in Warrensville, Ohio, at one of CHA’s meal sites serving children impacted by the public health crisis.
With the help of many generous donors – including Peoples Bank, FIS, and JobsOhio – CHA has distributed over 1 million meals to children at over 180 meal sites throughout the state since the start of the pandemic mid-March.
We sat down and chatted with Chuck Sulerzyski about Peoples Bank and their commitment to the communities they serve.
First, let’s talk about your organization. Tell us about Peoples Bank and its philanthropic culture.
Peoples Bank is a $5 billion bank headquartered in Marietta, Ohio since 1902, with locations statewide and in eastern Kentucky and western West Virginia. We see our purpose as helping our customers be successful, and part of that is by making our community stronger. We’ve always viewed the community aspect as a critically important one. In fact, in 2019, we supported the work of numerous charities by contributing over $1 million to their causes. That’s about 2 percent of our earnings, which is significant. You don’t see many publicly traded companies with this type of commitment.
I think what’s more important to focus on are the causes we support. Several years ago, we started something called Hunger Solutions Mid-Ohio Valley, a partnership with Marietta College and Marietta Memorial Hospital to help folks experiencing food insecurity in southeastern Ohio. From that, we started hunger initiatives across our footprint, and with the pandemic, we saw a huge need. In some of our markets – as the numbers suggested – the food insecurity rate has more than doubled. That’s just a terrible tragedy.
I was delighted that our board agreed to give us $250,000 to help with COVID relief efforts with most of that going to hunger initiatives, forming a variety of partnerships with different organizations. We were thrilled to support Children’s Hunger Alliance and their work feeding children amid the pandemic.
How does your organization motivate employees to engage with their community?
I think it’s just part of our culture, we want to make a difference. Many of the communities we serve don’t have a lot of business or governmental resources, therefore individuals have to step up. I also think the company generally attracts folks who have a heart and want to be part of making a difference.
I’m incredibly proud of our associates. Each year we do a tremendous amount of fundraising that requires a great effort by our employees, creating contests and inviting customers to participate. With COVID, we couldn’t do that this year. Instead, our associates are giving more generously through payroll deductions and we’re well on our way to achieving $60,000 in contributions. So it’s not only the company, but it’s also the people. And, in these tough times, we just need to all pull together and help folks to the best of our ability.
What inspired Peoples Bank to make the largest single donation ever in the bank’s history?
We were looking for an organization that would use the money effectively and efficiently, and, we think Children’s Hunger Alliance more than fits that bill. Your organization is great at what you do – improving access to meals for children experiencing hunger.
Around the same time, I became aware of a fundraiser called, The Thomahawk Challenge. Former Cleveland Browns players Joe Thomas and Andrew Hawkins, of The Thomahawk Show, had committed to matching donations to Children’s Hunger Alliance up to $50,000. We thought it would be great to join together to ensure the full match was realized. This collective effort resulted in a combined donation of $175,000. These types of collaborations across the state increase the power of our gifts to help feed underserved children.
What would you say to other organizations considering making a gift to CHA?
You’d be hard-pressed to find an organization that can make a bigger impact. Here are people that are providing food to children struggling with hunger at a time that is more critical than ever. And, that’s absolutely beautiful. I hope many more organizations join us.
Thank you, Chuck, for your time to chat about Peoples Bank and your commitment to the communities you serve. Together, we’re making a difference in the lives of many of Ohio’s children.