Hooktown group turns idea into philanthropy

They’re not looking for recognition, they’re looking to fulfill the needs of the community.

Hooktown Holidays, a group of mostly anonymous Warren residents named after Francis Hook and the neighborhood he founded on upper Conewango Avenue in the 1830’s, have raised and donated $5,000 to four different community agencies.

While Toys For Tots has children covered during the holidays, Hooktown Holidays works to address long term issues in the community such as food and clothing.

That goal is reflected in the groups mission statement, that reads “To provide nutritious food, warm clothing and or other necessities of life to deserving individuals or families in our community during the holiday season and winter months.”

The idea was simple, ask friends, family and neighbors to contribute $2 a week for 44 weeks. Hooktown Holidays member Terry Pearson thought the group would raise a couple hundred dollars.

But people were interested and cash and checks starting coming in. All donations and activities of the group are anonymous. No names or personal information is provided.

By November they had 56 people donating at least $2 a week to raise $5,254.

“People would stop by my house and hand me $20 bucks out the window,” Pearson said. “It was coming in various ways.”

Tim Greenlund grew up in the Hooktown area near Pearson, and the Hooktown Holidays member said at one point they considered just donating to residents in the Hooktown area.

“We talked about that, but then we simply said, ‘Wait a minute, we’re all a community,'” he said. “There was an article that appeared in the Warren paper back many, many years ago that suggested we all look in the mirror and honestly answer if we are doing what we can to help our community. Ever since I read that, it has stuck with me and from the number of people that donated to this cause, I believe they all want to make Warren a better place for all of us to live.”

Now that they raised over $5,000, how would they distribute it so it stays within the community?

“That was the most important thing we felt. We wanted to do something that would benefit these people during the holidays and help them out. We know that Warren has seen a decline in industry, they’ve seen a decline in population, and we’ve seen a rise in our poverty levels,” Greenlund said.

Each donation to the organizations had to meet Hooktown Holidays mission statement.

Through their discussions, they decided to split the fund evenly among four local community organizations; $1,250 would go to the Economic Opportunity Council to provide heating assistance and other emergency services to low income families; $1,250 would go to the Salvation Army “to be used for clothing, nutrition, and other required necessities of life”; St. Joseph’s soup kitchen to provide a “hot meal and a temporary respite from everyday pressures and difficulties hopefully none of us will ever have to experience;’ and the Area Agency on Aging where “caseworkers will disperse donated funds on a case by case basis to provide warm clothing, nutrition, heating assistance or other needs to an often and overlooked segment of our community.”

With their first attempt an overriding success, Hooktown Holidays is in the process of becoming a 501-c3 non-profit entity so residents can take the deduction on taxes, establishing a bank account at Northwest Savings Bank where residents can make donations and will spread the groups work on Facebook.

“This is a neighborhood effort we had,” Pearson said. “It’s so damn simple it’s sinful.”

Hooktown Holidays will continue the fundraising efforts beginning in February and will run through November 2014. Pearson says the group could raise $10,000 in 2014 with new participants.

“We just realize there’s a need in our community and we want to help fulfill that need,” Greenlund said. “It has been so well received by people that are a part of Hooktown Holidays.”

While Pearson and Greenlund are acting as spokesman, nobody is trying to claim ownership of the group.

“This is a neighborhood that did this. It’s just that we all walked on the same path. We all had the same goal. There’s no founder, or owner,” Pearson said.

Community residents interested in participating in Hooktown Holidays can contact Pearson at 688-9979 or Greenlund at 730-9107.

“You don’t have to live there,” Pearson said of Hooktown Holiday’s. “It’s a community thing…we say it’s current residents, former residents, friends and family.”