Gina Mace

CUYAHOGA FALLS: Thanks to a social media site and a pizza shop, 24 Cuyahoga Falls families had turkey dinners for Thanksgiving.

And if last year repeats itself, children’s Christmas wishes placed on an Angel Tree last week in the lobby of East of Chicago Pizza at 2603 State Road will be granted.

There is more to East of Chicago Pizza, owned by husband and wife Jeff and Kathy Straughan, than the food for sale. For some Cuyahoga Falls residents in need, it can be a lifeline.

The Straughans have designated a portion of the basement storage area to house a food pantry, winter coats, clothes, toys and more for Cuyahoga Falls residents in need.

The items are donated by members of a Facebook group, “I’m from Cuyahoga Falls and I Need Assistance.”

The social media site recently celebrated one year of assisting Falls residents in need.

The page was created after a woman who was being evicted asked for help on another Cuyahoga Falls Facebook page.

“People were being mean and nasty to her,” Jeff Straughan said. “We wanted a page where people could ask for help and not be humiliated.”

People stepped up, helping the woman with money and storage. Some pooled together to pay for a hotel.

Soon, others were asking for help — cleaning gutters, plowing snow, paying overdue utilities and moving furniture. Some asked for odd jobs to make money.

At first, Jeff Straughan filled all of the requests.

“Then other people started helping,” he said.

One woman who was financially strapped asked for help throwing her two children a birthday party.

The restaurant donated pizzas and the Facebook community responded with offers of toys, cakes and party supplies. They needed someplace to hold the donations.

The Straughans offered East of Chicago as a drop-off point.

Wendy Keeney stepped in to organize donations and continues to run the donation center in the basement. She also managed the Thanksgiving food drive, helped last year by Tanya Marie Cummings-Bodnar.

After receiving a turkey from the Facebook group last year, Katie Wright paid it forward by donating children’s clothes. She also formed a committee to create the first Angel Tree last year. Nearly 100 children received presents from that project.

The Angel Tree for this Christmas will be available through Dec. 18. Anyone who wishes to help can choose a tag from the tree, buy a gift for the child described and return the wrapped gift with the tag attached to East of Chicago by Dec. 20.

The group limits its assistance to Cuyahoga Falls residents, but anyone can donate.

Most of the people who are helped are “working poor,” Keeney said. And they tend to return the favor by donating to others.

“People who give the most don’t have it to give, and they would not have usually asked for help,” Keeney said.

The site is a “no-judgment zone.” The Straughans have removed people from the site for nasty comments.

Jeff Straughan, a disabled Marine, has a heart bigger than his wallet, his wife said.

They’ve been ripped off a few times by people who asked to borrow money and never paid it back. While they’re a little more cautious, it hasn’t kept them from giving.

“Everything you do in life is a leap of faith,” he said.

The couple is by no means wealthy. But they’ve been helped before and continue to help others.

“One time a company I worked for adopted us,” Kathy Straughan said. “That allowed us to have a Christmas. This is just my way of paying that person forward.”