Salem Chamber Honors Four for Community Support during Pandemic

SALEM, Ohio  – In a normal year, the Salem Area Chamber of Commerce’s annual meeting would highlight businesses for their professional work. But 2020 has been anything but normal.

On Wednesday, the Salem Chamber chose to instead celebrate the volunteers and businesses that looked to better their community over the last year. Honorees were recognized during a virtual ceremony, rather than the traditional luncheon.

MM Industries accountant Doug Falk was named the Citizen of the Year, The Brightside Project received the Nonprofit of the Year, Stark Memorial Funeral Home & Cremation Services was the Small Business of the Year and Ventra Salem was honored as Large Business of the Year.

Falk, a 1992 graduate of Salem High School, volunteers at several churches in the Salem Area. After receiving his degree in accounting and business from Youngstown State University, he became the company accountant for MM Industries.

He’s in his third year as the Salem Kiwanis club president, a volunteer with The Banquet in Salem nonprofit and income tax reviewer and trainer for the Volunteer Income Tax Assistant program at Youngstown State University.

“I look forward to what the future holds for myself and our great community,” Falk said during his acceptance speech. “Over the time that I’ve been volunteering in this or that, it makes me the happiest when I am doing what makes a difference in someone’s life or for an organization.”

Assisting the community is nothing new for the team at The Brightside Project. The nonprofit was started by Scott Lewis and Lisa Wallace in 2016 to help children physically and socially develop despite trauma or negative experiences.

Prior to the pandemic, The Brightside Project created Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, which offers free books to children up to 5, and helped children to meet Santa Claus and choose toys as part of the Bright Christmas program.

After the shutdown, the nonprofit began the Crisis Relief Food for Kids program. The organization distributed 1,500 bags of nonperishable and fresh fruit to children in Columbiana County. The Brightside Project also held a drive-thru Easter basket giveaway and back-to-school programs for clothes, shoes and backpacks for students in need.

“It’s been a very trying time for The Brightside in 2020, just like everybody else,” Lewis said. “We went into 2020 not expecting to hit COVID relief like we did, our crisis relief program. But 2020 has been a good year for us. We’ve been able to reach out to a lot of kids.”

Stark Memorial Funeral Home & Cremation Services’ history can be traced back to Gotleib Stark, who started making caskets in North Georgetown in 1853. O.G. Stark transformed the business into Stark Memorial, Inc. in 1920. A year later, he moved the company to its current location on East State Street in Salem. 

The company changed hands a couple times over the years before Daniel Madden purchased the company in January 2019. Madden and his staff are active in the community, involving themselves in organizations like Rotary Club of Salem, the Salem Park and Recreation Department and St. Paul School.

“We’re happy to be able to provide and adjust accordingly, creating things like Hugs from Home and other things to where we can still give people a final farewell and have people show their support, even if it was from afar,” Madden said.

Ventra Salem is another company with roots in the Mahoning Valley. The company started at Warren Molding Plastics in Cortland in 1958. It changed names and locations several times until Flex-N-Gate bought the company in 2008 and Ventra Salem was created.

It’s the largest employer in Salem with 850 employees. Ventra and Flex-N-Gate manufacture and supply automobile components. 

That is, until the pandemic began taking its toll on the protective equipment supply chain.

This year, the company began producing and distributing face shields to help control the spread of COVID-19. In total, Ventra distributed over 18,500 shields for schools, churches and organizations.

“To say that [ employees] have pulled together through good times and bad times, I think that’s a little bit understated,” Ventra Salem general manager Scott Tuel said. “These folks can persevere and, man, do they work hard.  I can’t say enough.”

The chamber also elected its board of directors for 2021. Their terms will begin in January.

The newly elected directors are: Ryan Gillis, office assistant and community liaison, Visiting Angels of Salem; Rachel Martin, owner of RJM Law; Ann Myers, co-owner of Myers Family Insurance; Steward White, owner of White Donuts; Robin Whitehair, branch manager, Berkshire Hathaway Homeservices Northwood Realty Services; and Brian Whitehill, copper process manager for Butech Bliss.

Copyright 2020 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.