Rolnick Discusses GOJO, Community at Federation Women’s Event
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by MCKENNA CORSON | STAFF REPORTER
Women IN Philanthropy of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland held its first virtual campaign event Oct. 28 to celebrate women making a difference, where about 300 people attended the featured conversation between GOJO Executive Chair Marcella Kanfer Rolnick and Jewish Federation of Cleveland President Erika B. Rudin-Luria.
“The MaIN Event” also honored Mariely Luengo with the 2020 Irene Zehman Volunteer Award.
And as of Oct. 30, event attendees pledged more than $1 million to the Federation’s 2021 Campaign for Jewish Needs, according to an email from the organization.
In her discussion with Rudin-Luria, Rolnick explained that because this wasn’t GOJO, the Akron-based hand hygiene and skin care business’ first experience with a viral outbreak – citing SARS, swine flu and Ebola in the past – GOJO had developed a detection and alert process where professionals would scan the international media and epidemiological information for whispers of upcoming outbreaks.
In mid-January, Rolnick said she and her team received an email from one of their scientists warning them about COVID-19. GOJO, the creator of Purell hand sanitizer, immediately accelerated production capacity, increasing from five days a week, two shifts a day, to seven days a week, 24 hours a day.
By the time the world caught up to GOJO’s supply in March, GOJO had to go into allocation due to the increased need for hand sanitizer and hygiene products.
“Our partners that bring the product to the retailers and to the businesses started creating literally almost infinite demand, which is why most of you for many months couldn’t find our products on the shelves,” said Rolnick, who lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., but is temporarily living in Akron, where she grew up, during the pandemic. “We were fulfilling the most frontline needs out there for the essential workers, the health care workers and so forth.”
GOJO has already made double what it did in 2019, and by May, it consumed the annual amount of alcohol produced in products in 2019, Rolnick said.
Despite the immense boost in business, Rolnick said GOJO’s focus has always been on the people behind the product.
“We really grounded our response in serving the world, doing the best that we could to save lives and to make life better for people,” Rolnick said. “... It really wasn’t about growing the business, which was coming naturally with the process; it was really about rising up. Our team, even right now, is continuing to sprint this marathon.”
Completely altered due to high demand and COVID-19, Rolnick said the company had to do some “hard prioritization” of the markets, find sources for new raw materials, add its own productive capacity, get contract manufacturers online and establish partnerships with typically unlikely companies.
To further help during the pandemic, Rolnick said GOJO has provided additional funding to long-time partnerships with organizations like the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank. GOJO also created an employee emergency fund for its workers so they’re able to pay unexpected costs.
Rolnick serves on or leads a number of philanthropic foundations and efforts tied to her family or Jewish faith, such as the Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah, Hannah Senesh Community Day School board in Brooklyn and the advisory board of Case Western Reserve University’s Fowler Center for Business in Cleveland.
“I really feel like the concept in Judaism of mitzvah, of obligation, is not a choice,” Rolnick said. “It’s an act of caring or giving, an act of justice, and it’s compulsory in our family’s view. Right now, the needs are endless.”
Also no stranger to catering to the needs of Cleveland’s Jewish community is Mariely Luengo, who was celebrated during “The MaIN Event” for her philanthropic efforts with the 2020 Irene Zehman Volunteer Award. The award is given annually to a Jewish woman or group of women who go to great ends to perform volunteer service, and have never been recognized before, according to the Federation’s website.
Luengo is the board chair of the Julia De Burgos Cultural Arts Center in Cleveland, and co-founder of The West Tribe, a nonprofit organization that serves and assists Cleveland’s west side Jewish community.
Most recently, Luengo established the West Tribe Community Food Co-op, where Jewish families from Ohio City to Elyria who are impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic can receive food and resources from Federation agencies.
Luengo also holds candidacy for positions at Westlake World Partners, North Pointe Ballet and The Association of Junior Leagues International’s Diversity & Inclusion body. She’s also a Cleveland Clinic volunteer.
Luengo expressed gratitude for the award, explaining that she finds strength in the members of Women IN Philanthropy.
“We all go to bed with this list of neurotic thoughts about everything that’s going wrong, especially (during) this time,” Luengo said. “But when I go to bed, I also know that I’m going with the security of having each other. The fact that you’re here in another Zoom call and that we’re going to put our pocketbooks and brains together, that somehow knowing we have been doing this for over 100 years, makes me go to sleep even better.”
In Luengo’s honor, a gift was made to the Cleveland Chesed Center in Cleveland Heights, a Federation partner agency.
Michelle Hirsch, Women IN Philanthropy chair, urged the attendees to continue their efforts toward philanthropy.
“Jewish women know when and how to stand up for what’s right, how to support those in need, how to rise up, how to stand together, and lead the change as mothers, daughters, sisters, nieces and bubbes,” Hirsch said. “Together, we can do anything. Together, we are here for good.”