GALION — An organization committed to helping children who have been affected by the opioid epidemic is trying to make Easter brighter for the kids it serves.
Erie County resident Keli Clark founded Project Noelle in 2017 following the death of her daughter, Noelle, due to a drug overdose.
“She passed away of an overdose July 31, 2017,” said Clark, who is raising Noelle’s identical twin boys. “When all that happened, I reached out looking for any kind of guidance and how to explain things (to children) and I realized that there was really nothing out there for the kids. And it felt like with this horrible epidemic, that the kids were just being forgotten about. There’s a lot of (resources) for the addicts and that’s a wonderful thing, but I thought, ‘What about all these kids that are being left behind?’
“So, that holiday season (2017), I decided to start Project Noelle and just help some of the kids (who lost parents due to drug overdose or imprisonment) at Christmastime. And it’s just taken off from there.”
Clark said Project Noelle has grown to serve children in 16 counties in Ohio and five counties in Florida, providing services and assistance for children.
“We do everything from Christmas to Easter (initiatives) to kids support groups, emergency clothing and diapers,” Clark said. “We help with back to school haircuts and just on and on.”
Clark said Crawford County is one of the new additions to the Project Noelle family. At Christmas, Project Noelle helped 63 children in Crawford County, Clark said. She said that the organization is in the process of starting kids support groups for children ages 5-12 in Crawford County.
“They meet once a month. It’s a support group, but it’s a fun support group,” Clark said. “It’s a safe place kids can come. Nobody’s judging because everyone’s been through the same type of thing.”
Plans for teen support groups are also in the works.
Clark said Project Noelle has utilized its Facebook page to promote its programs and services and also receives referrals from social service organizations like Children Services agencies in the counties it serves, school guidance counselors, Help Me Grow, and recovery centers.
“We don’t only help the ones that have lost parents to overdose, we help the ones who have lost parents to prison, active addiction, whatever the case may be,” Clark said. “A loss is a loss.”
Since the COVID-19 pandemic emerged last year, Clark said the opioid crisis has taken a backseat in terms of public awareness, but it is still a serious problem across the country. Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost reported in January that the death rate due to opioid overdoses was 11.01 per 100,000 people in the second quarter of 2020. That was the highest rate reported in the state in 10 years, according to the study Yost commissioned. The study utilized data from the Ohio Department of Health.
“It’s gone from a really bad situation to a much worse situation because of COVID,” Clark said. “We just got calls this week about four people that have overdosed and left kids behind just in our area here. It’s terrible.”
Easter project underway
Project Noelle’s annual Easter initiative is now underway, Clark said, with donations being accepted to make Easter baskets for children. The deadline to make donations is March 18.
Drop-off locations in Crawford County include the Galion Public Library, 123 North Market Street; The Flower Cart Florist, 531 Harding Way West in Galion; and Waycraft Industries, 118 River Street in Bucyrus.
Families who would like to receive Easter baskets for their children can contact Project Noelle through its website www.projectnoelle.com, click on the “Easter” tab at the top of the page, and follow directions for registration.
Project Noelle is a 501c3 non-profit organization. Clark said people wishing to make monetary donations can designate which county they want the donation to benefit. She said they should write the county’s name on the memo line of the check.
Clark said those interested in becoming a volunteer for Project Noelle can also get information on the website.
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