Handel’s Extends a Hand, Not a Handout

CANFIELD, Ohio – In looking at the origins of Handel’s Ice Cream’s annual “Koins for Kids” campaign, it’s easy to see why Akron Children’s Hospital Mahoning Valley is the beneficiary of so many nickels, dimes and quarters.

Both Handel’s CEO Leonard Fisher and chief operating officer Jim Brown are fathers of children who spent time in pediatric hospitals: first Fisher and his son Joshua in the 1980s when the destination in the Mahoning Valley was Tod Children’s Hospital, later Brown and his daughter Rachel at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.

“When you have a sick kid, it affects you,” Brown says. “I made a promise when we got her home that some way, somehow, we would pay it forward. Lenny and I made the decision that in giving back to the community, our efforts would be directed at those hospitals.”

Six years ago, the two began Koins for Kids, which has since raised more than $200,000 for Akron Children’s. In the 30 participating schools, some 20,000 students sell paper snowmen to family and friends, collecting whatever coins they can.

Over the years, Handel’s added the Firefighters’ Boot Drive to kick off the campaign where firefighters stand on busy street corners and ask drivers to fill their boots with coins. (Currency is accepted as well.) Handel’s stores are also donation sites during the drive.

The in-school drive runs from just after Thanksgiving through the second week of December.

“The more you give, the more you get. In a community that’s supported Handel’s since 1945, we want to give back,” Fisher says. “Back in 1982, when my son was born, he had a problem and we took him to Tod Children’s Hospital. If not for them, he probably wouldn’t be alive today.”

Another large fundraiser that Handel’s helps organizations put together, Fisher says, is sales of pint cards. They allow groups such as high school marching bands and sports teams to sell cards at the retail value of each pint container. The profit that would go to Handel’s goes instead to the group.

“Everybody needs to raise money and the budgets are restrictive. From bands to sports, if they’re calling us for help, then we can show them a way they can do it themselves,” Brown says. “It’s been a huge success. I can’t tell you how many people we’ve supported over the years.”

Handel’s has also worked with the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life, the Boys & Girls Club of Youngstown, Mission of Love, Toys for Tots and United Way of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley.

For its work, Handel’s was given the Outstanding Small-Business Philanthropist award by the Mahoning-Shenango Chapter of American Fundraising Professionals.

When it comes to helping most organizations, Fisher says Handel’s has just one requirement: they must be willing to put in the work needed to raise the money.

“People call us every day asking for donations. We get hundreds,” he says. “And we tell them, ‘Instead of a donation, why don’t you go out and collect money and make the money?’ The people who really want the donation are the ones who are willing to go out and do it.”

And over the years, the reception accorded the fundraisers has been outstanding, Brown reports.

“When we first started, it was like lightning in a bottle,” he says of Koins for Kids. “It’s one of those things everyone can get behind and it’s become almost like a holiday tradition.”

Pictured: Handel’s Ice Cream’s president and CEO, Leonard Fisher, and its chief operating officer, Jim Brown.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.