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Rotary hears about Polk County Cares

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Toni Cochran HughesToni Cochran Hughes

By Emily Banks Wooten
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Polk County Cares recently held its 10th annual Crawfish/Shrimp Boil, selling out several days before the event. Fifty-eight reserved tables were sold in addition to numerous individual tickets. To date, $129,664 has been raised and will be divided three ways – between Polk County Cares, F.A.I.T.H. Military Support Group and Center of Hope-Cancer Support.

Toni Cochran-Hughes, one of the founders of the nonprofit Polk County Cares, recently spoke to the Rotary Club of Livingston, telling them about the organization.

“I was born and raised here and Polk County is very important to me. I was raised to give back to the community that has done so much for us. In 2012 my best friend, Lisa Mayhugh, was diagnosed with breast cancer. My husband Scott and I decided to form a team for the local Relay for Life, which was a fundraising event for the American Cancer Society. We raised a few thousand dollars that first year. In 2014 I told Scott we should have a crawfish boil fundraiser. Had either of us had a crawfish boil before? No, but I told Scott we’ve been to enough we will figure it out. We continued with our crawfish boil and auction for the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life being the top fundraising team in Polk County and one of the top teams in our region for 6 years,” Cochran-Hughes said.

“In 2018, Scott and I were visiting with Bea and Dan Ellis about F.A.I.T.H. Military Support Group and their expenses. Scott and I went home and talked about how we could help. We invited F.A.I.T.H. to join our crawfish boil, splitting the money between the American Cancer Society and F.A.I.T.H.,” she said.

“In 2019, Scott and I wanted to continue to help in the fight against cancer, but we wanted to help local cancer patients. I spoke with Jeanie Binns and discovered that Center of Hope was in the planning stages of forming an organization to help Polk County cancer patients with travel expenses. Scott and I prayed about it and asked Center of Hope-Cancer Support to join us,” she said.

“In 2020, we were lucky enough to be one of the last events before the COVID shutdown. During the shutdown, Scott and I started talking about how we could help more people is our area. We formed Polk County Cares, a 501(c)3 organization that partners with the community to support local charities. Our purpose is to raise funds to be distributed to qualifying non-profit organizations in Polk County. I have a few application packets if anyone is interested,” Cochran-Hughes said.

“In 2021 with COVID still out there, we decided to have our crawfish boil as a drive-thru event and have some raffle items and it was very successful. Last year Polk County Cares donated over $60,000 to Center of Hope-Cancer Support and F.A.I.T.H. In July, Polk County Cares held its first fish fry, serving Hughes Catfish Inn famous catfish. We raised over $6,000.

“We have come a long way in the last 10 years. The first year we boiled 450 pounds of crawfish for about 150 people. This year we will boil over 1,500 pounds of crawfish and 475 pounds of shrimp for over 500 people. Over the last 11 years we have raised over $550,000,” she said.

Cochran-Hughes closed by thanking the 2023 crawfish fundraiser sponsors, as well as the Polk County Cares Board of Directors which includes Yana Ogletree, Becca Dillon, Russ Johnson, Scott Hughes, Sandi Karns, Stephen Moye and Scott Smith.

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