Cafaro Foundation Extends Family’s Philanthropy

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Joe Bell still hears the stories about the generosity of the founders of the Cafaro Co. in decades past.

If a member of their church had fallen on hard times, for example, they would show up at Easter with clothes for the children and dinner for the family, “the whole nine yards,” he says.

Two decades ago, the Cafaro family created the vehicle for its philanthropy, the Cafaro Foundation.

William and John Cafaro, along with William’s wife, Alyce, “were very generous, giving to various causes around town and usually donating it anonymously,” Bell says. Bell is director of corporate communications for the Cafaro Co. and spokesman for the Cafaro Foundation.

Following Alyce Cafaro’s death in 1996, her husband established the foundation in her memory “as a means of formalizing the kind of gifts they give and as a way of memorializing his wife,” Bell says. He died two years later, by which time the foundation was solidly in place to fulfill its mission.

“It’s self-funded by the family. They do not ask for donations from anyone, do not hold fundraisers,” Bell says. “They endowed the foundation with their own money and that endowment continues to grow each year based on the way it’s invested.”

The five trustees of the foundation – all members of the Cafaro family – meet monthly to evaluate requests. The foundation doesn’t restrict its giving to a specific area of philanthropy, although Bell says, “an awful lot of support goes for education,” whether for scholarships or capital improvements for schools and universities.

“There’s a lot of leeway in terms of what the trustees can take as far as causes that they want to support,” Bell says.

Among the beneficiaries is Ursuline High School in Youngstown, which has completed several capital projects as a result of the Cafaros’ “generous contributions,” says Carolyn Korenic, Ursuline director of alumni and advancement.

The Cafaros are Ursuline’s “largest ongoing benefactors,” having given well into seven figures, she reports.

The foundation’s recent disbursements allowed the high school to “significantly enhance” science instruction and renovate its science wing. Phase I of the upgrade was completed last summer and Phase II is underway.

“In the past, the Cafaro Foundation helped us to renovate our athletic facilities for boys and girls,” Korenic says. “Their gift provided wireless access throughout the building.” Cafaro money has also been used to purchase laptops and smartboards, as well as to provide more funding for scholarships.

Disbursements since the start of the foundation total more than $13.6 million, including $1.5 million for this year, Bell reports. The amount distributed grows each year, based on the endowment’s investment returns. “It was maybe $12,000 the first year” and topped $1 million for the first time in 2009, he says.

The foundation is a regular contributor to Second Harvest Food Bank and, in particular, the “Project: Feed Our Valley” campaign conducted by WFMJ. It matches financial contributions dollar for dollar up to $10,000.

“We’re very grateful to the Cafaro Foundation and the Cafaro family for their ongoing support for Second Harvest and our efforts to feed hungry people,” says Mike Iberis, Second Harvest executive director.

Other foundation beneficiaries are Animal Welfare League of Trumbull County, Boy Scouts of America, Bo Rein Stadium Committee in Niles, Oh Wow! The Roger & Gloria Jones Children’s Center for Science & Technology in Youngstown, Tech Belt Energy Innovation Center in Warren, Children’s Rehabilitation Center and the Trumbull campus of Kent State University.

In some cases, the committee re-evaluates proposals turned down earlier because of the huge number of requests that the foundation receives. The committee encourages parties whose requests are denied to ask again.

“Very often what I’ve found is that causes that may have been declined for donations at one point in time may get a donation later on,” Bell says. “It just depends on what their thought process is and what they feel would be appropriate at that time.”

Even with the process in place, Bell says, he still hears about donations that aren’t listed on the donations report. “The fact is the family members are very generous. They continued that tradition from time to time of donating anonymously outside of the regular confines of the foundation,” he says.

Pictured:  William Cafaro established the family’s foundation after his wife, Alyce, died in 1996.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.