Partnering with the community to support local charities
By Emily Banks Wooten
Polk County Cares is already gearing up and working hard to make its July 2 Fish Fry every bit as successful as its crawfish/shrimp boil in February which grossed $83,882.23, funding which will stay in Polk County to assist local non-profits.
“I didn’t tell anyone, but I was hoping for $80,000, but with COVID still going on, wasn’t sure. We blew that out of the water, so I’m really optimistic about next year’s crawfish/shrimp boil which is scheduled for Feb. 11, 2023,” Toni Cochran-Hughes, president of the board of directors of Polk County Cares, said recently during a check presentation ceremony. Toni, along with several other board members of Polk County Cares, presented checks to F.A.I.T.H. Military Support Group and Center of Hope Cancer Support, with each organization receiving a check for $30,855.33.
Polk County Cares, a 501(c)3 organization, is putting community donations to work. Its purpose is to raise funds to be distributed to qualifying non-profit organizations within Polk County. Toni and her husband, Scott Hughes, created the organization together in 2021. And while some may think its creation must have hit the ground running to raise those kinds of funds, it’s actually a labor of love that’s been 10 years in the making, raising about $500,000 over the course of those 10 years.
“In 2012, Lisa Mayhugh, my best friend, was diagnosed with breast cancer. Lisa was director of the First United Methodist Church Treble Makers Children’s Choir, so I started the Treble Makers Relay for Life team and we had our first crawfish/shrimp boil in 2013,” Toni said. The crawfish/shrimp boil became an annual event, growing and evolving a little more each year.
“In 2018, we were still raising funds for Relay for Life, but after much prayer, Scott and I invited F.A.I.T.H. to join our fundraiser,” Toni said.
F.A.I.T.H. Military Support Group (Families And Individuals Thanking Heroes) is a group of volunteers that gathers each month to pack care packages to send to military personnel, each with some tie to Polk County, to provide encouragement and support. The organization has shipped more than 23,000 care packages to the troops since its formation in 2006 and has only missed two months of sending packages – once when Hurricane Ike came through Livingston and once during the COVID-19 pandemic due to the shortage of supplies.
“We’ve always wanted to keep funds local and support local cancer patients, so I got with Jean Binns about the Center of Hope Cancer Support. Scott and I prayed again and asked Center of Hope Cancer Support to join us in 2019. My gift and grace is I can raise money, and I told Jean, ‘If you can do the other, let’s do it,’” Toni said, adding that Polk County Cares is structured similarly to United Way.
“We understand the importance of being a good steward of the community’s donations. Therefore, it is our responsibility to learn as much as we can about the organizations,” Toni said of the strenuous application process. Application packets may be picked up at her office at 300 N. Washington in Livingston. Included in the packet are the criteria to apply for funding. Polk County Cares meets quarterly to review and distribute funding, which is limited to local non-profits with all funds staying local.
The board is made up of Toni, who serves as president, Vice President Yana Ogletree, Secretary Becca Dillon, Treasurer Scott Smith, and Directors Solita Collard, Cheryl Downing, Scott Hughes, Sandi Karnes and Stephen Moye.
“Scott and I have wanted to help local charities. We formed Polk County Cares so we could partner with the community to support the local charities,” Toni said. “We look forward to learning more about the local non-profit organizations and understanding how we can help make a positive impact within the Polk County communities.
“We’re working on the website. It will be up soon and will have a list of our charities,” Toni said. Until then, Polk County Cares has a Facebook page that may be liked and followed. For additional information call Polk County Cares at 409-268-6804.