Ziegenfelder Co., Catholic Charities Team Up to Help Employees in Wake of Downtown Wheeling Fire in January

Partnership to aid employees in hard times

Felix Sharp, Ziegenfelder Co. employee and Catholic Charities volunteer, speaks Tuesday at a press conference at Catholic Charities West Virginia’s 18th Street Center alongside Rabbi Joshua Lief of Temple Shalom, left, Ziegenfelder Company CEO Lisa Allen, second from left, and Ziegenfelder COO Kevin Heller, right.

WHEELING — The city’s “Ziggy Tribe” is working with Catholic Charities West Virginia to put donations received after January’s fire to good use.

The Ziegenfelder Company and Catholic Charities announced Friday the launch of the Ziegenfelder Employee Emergency Assistance Program, designed to support the frozen treat company’s workers and provide help if they ever face a financial emergency.

“There are three words that kind of sum up what Catholic Charities is about and what we’re all about: people helping people,” Beth Zarate, CEO of Catholic Charities West Virginia, said at a press conference Friday. “Today’s about how by working together we can move each other forward.”

The move comes after a large fire razed part of the Ziegenfelder Co.’s facilities in East Wheeling on Jan. 31 on one of the coldest days of the winter. The company received an outpouring of support and donations from local organizations and started up production again in mid-February.

Two community leaders, John Moses of Youth Services System and Rabbi Joshua Lief of Temple Shalom, led much of the efforts to support the company.

“The sabbath is about giving your workers time off, taking care of those who work and showing kindness and support. At the Ziegenfelder company, they take this value to heart, giving people second chances,” Lief said. “It was my fear that with this tragedy, what if all these people suddenly were out of work?”

Lief shared a letter with his congregation encouraging donations to help Ziegenfelder employees, and, after a Facebook post featuring his letter went “viral,” eventually received 50 donations from congregations and individuals, he said. Moses also secured grants from the JB Chambers Foundation, Schenk Charitable Trust and an anonymous source.

The company later announced in early March that all of its employees were back to work and that no one lost their job. Because of the surplus money raised, Ziegenfelder contacted the Community Foundation for the Ohio Valley to determine how to honor donor wishes.

The foundation then tasked Catholic Charities with developing a program with long-term goals, according to a press release from the organization. The newly-formed assistance program will help Ziegenfelder employees get back on their feet if they ever need financial help.

Catholic Charities will also provide ongoing support to employees as individualized needs arise, and the program will be overseen by the organization’s case managers, who Zarate calls “life coaches.”

“It is truly a pleasure to be here today to see what we hoped would be the case is now actually operational and there are people being helped,” Lief said.

Felix Sharp, a Ziegenfelder employee and volunteer at Catholic Charities, spoke about his experience at the event. Sharp moved to Wheeling five years ago as a recovering addict and the company gave him a job.

“I’ve been clean since been here, and since I’ve been here things have been going OK for me,” Sharp said. “I know there’s some people in this town who don’t like to ask for help. They think it’s bad. I don’t feel that way. It’s not a handout, it’s a hand up.”

Kevin Heller, chief operating officer of the Ziegenfelder Co., spoke of Sharp as an employee. The company strives to give people “second chances” in hiring people who were previously incarcerated or recovering addicts, he said.

“He’s a very valued member of our tribe,” Heller said. “He’s very reliable, does a great job and supports the values of our company and really of Catholic Charities’ mission.”

Meanwhile, the Ziegenfelder plant is back to work, with all of its five production lines operational, Heller said. Rebuilding is also underway, with a new exterior staircase built by the plant.

“I have to ask myself, why do things like that happen? Why do tragedies and horrific events happen?” said Lisa Allen, CEO of the company. “Knowing that God is gracious and God is good, there’s a reason for things like that. What we’ve collectively come together to do, may be some of those beautiful outcomes.”

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