A cause worth sticking with

Tony Szambecki minces no words when he talks about his philosophy on community service.

“If you’re going to be in business in a community, if you’re going to live there yourself, you need to be involved.”

Szambecki is the co-founder of Hallrich Inc., a Kent-based company that owns and manages 79 Pizza Hut restaurants in Northeast Ohio. Twenty years ago, he and co-owner Scott Richie decided to focus their charitable efforts on children, and they’ve been doing that ever since.

“There was no master plan,” Szambecki says. “There were a lot of people asking us for time and money and we had to decide some way to filter through [the requests] to decide who we were and who we weren’t going to support.”

After the group agreed that the company should not get involved in politics or religion, children’s needs just seemed like the logical answer.

Szambecki says Hallrich’s first contributions were in the form of local Little League sponsorships. Today, it donates $400,000 a year in product giveaways to the Book It! program alone — just one of several programs it sponsors.

The program, which was started by Pizza Hut nationally, awards students with free Personal Pan Pizza certificates for reaching reading goals determined by their teachers.

Hallrich also helped develop the Pizza Passport program, now offered nationwide through the Pizza Hut system. Pizza Hut donates “free pizza” cards to schools, which sell them for $10 to $12. The schools keep half of the money, and the other half goes to American Shores Enterprises, the company that runs the program. Szambecki estimates that Hallrich’s Pizza Huts have helped raise $1.7 million for Northeast Ohio schools through that program.

Although those large programs are successful, Hallrich doesn’t ignore the smaller requests that gave the company its philanthropic roots.

“Most contributions we do are $300, $500, $1,500,” Szambecki says, listing purchases such as school band and Little League uniforms.

Hallrich has also loaned its corporate offices out for evening phone solicitation campaigns.

“There are things you can do that don’t cost money,” Szambecki advises. Most importantly, “Take a step,” he says.

One of the unique aspects of Hallrich’s philanthropic efforts is that most of the money is not raised through employee donations. That is not to say Hallrich employees don’t support, and learn from, those programs. It’s just that most Pizza Hut employees are too young to be in a position to give away part of their wages.

“It’s not a period in their lives where [they’re] very charitably-inclined,” Szambecki says. Instead, he hopes the company is setting an example for its young employees, one that stays with them throughout their careers.

“Most people don’t understand business and they think it’s an evil thing if you’re successful ,” Szambecki says. “They assume you’re cheating and that’s absolutely wrong. There are good people and bad people in all walks of life and in all businesses … That’s what we try to impart in the people who work for us.”

How to reach: Hallrich Inc., (330) 678-0684

Connie Swenson ([email protected]) is editor of SBN.