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Published: Thursday, 2/26/2004

Tavern for Tots $14,000 rejected

BY TOM TROY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Taverns For Tots, established to get around Toledo s smoking ban and raise money for disadvantaged children, tried to give away $14,000 yesterday but failed when the recipients learned who was giving it to them.

Connecting Point, a youth addiction treatment agency on Cherry Street, and FOCUS Homeless Services on Ashland Avenue were each to receive $7,000 in a public check presentation.

Both said they learned about the Taverns For Tots connection when they received the advisory sent to news organizations.

“We get a copy of the news release, and it said it was from Taverns For Tots, so we felt deceived,” said Sherry Krieger, vice president of development for Connecting Point. “This made us question their motive.”

She said she was told Monday the donor was Small Business Solutions Capital.

Karen Baker-Zepf, who owns Small Business Solutions Capital in Sylvania Township and is a director of Taverns For Tots, acknowledged that she contacted Ms. Krieger, but she denied hiding the involvement of Taverns For Tots.

“That s nonsense. I told her two days ago it was Taverns For Tots,” Ms. Baker-Zepf said.

Taverns For Tots was formed in December as a way to allow Toledo bars to hold private social functions that would be exempt from the city s smoking ban that took effect in August. The group has claimed to have as many as 60,000 members who pay a $1 membership fee to enter bars holding Taverns For Tots events.

Ms. Baker-Zepf said its activities have virtually stopped because of a federal court order issued Jan. 27 at the city s request. U.S. District Judge James Carr is expected to rule soon on whether to continue the temporary restraining order now in place.

Ms. Baker-Zepf claimed the funds were turned down for political reasons. “Basically, everybody s afraid to accept the money because they don t want to lose any city money,” she said.

Maja Reed, the executive director of FOCUS, said her organization has turned down money from groups with whom they have a philosophical difference. She said Taverns For Tots identification with smoking conflicts with FOCUS s mission.

“We help people overcome negative habits and develop healthy, life-enhancing habits. For some of our clients, these habits are related to the problems that led them into poverty,” Ms. Reed said.

FOCUS this year was budgeted to received $68,696 from the city s federal block grant, just under 5 percent of FOCUS $1.4 million budget.

Ms. Reed denied that fear of jeopardizing its funding was the reason for declining the money.

“We re feeling a little like we re being played here,” she said. She said she tried to talk about the possible contribution with Ms. Baker-Zepf, but was hung up on.

Ms. Krieger said Connecting Point has received small grants of about $1,500 in the last couple years.

“Other than that, we do not receive anything major. We are not a city-funded organization,” she said.

Ms. Baker-Zepf said she called the mayor to urge him to assure Connecting Point and FOCUS that their city funding wouldn t be harmed by accepting money from Taverns For Tots.

Barbara Herring, the city s law director, said she did not believe an organization would be punished for accepting money from Taverns For Tots.

Steve Hales, attorney for Taverns For Tots, said several charities have been unwilling to accept the money. He said the group has contacted local organizations to have a local impact, rather than send the money to national or out-of-town charities.



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