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Comfort among Chamber award winners
Annual banquet recognizes community leaders
Tammy Comfort
Tammy Comfort receives the Chamber of Commerce Distinguished Citizen Award on Monday night at Bridgestone Learning Center.

For those in search of their next meal, Helping Hands Ministry is a place to turn.

Tammy Comfort launched the ministry from her home in 2006 and expanded to Main Street nearly five years ago where she operates a thrift store and free soup kitchen.

Her humanitarian efforts have garnered attention as Comfort was honored Monday night at Bridgestone Learning Center with the Distinguished Citizen Award during the annual Chamber of Commerce banquet.

In presenting the award, Lisa Harvey noted, “Most of us here have never gone to bed hungry or gone without clothes.”

Lecredia Rutledge is part of the small army of volunteers who assist Comfort in her food giveaways. Through her work on the front lines, Rutledge has seen the impact food boxes have made for local residents and told the story of a grandmother who was so thankful to receive groceries.

“Her son had suffered a heart attack so she was forced to take care of her two grandkids,” said Rutledge. “She was so grateful and so appreciative to get a food box because she said she didn’t know how else she would get the food.”

Bill Zechman was honored with the Volunteer of the Year Award. A longtime elected official on the Warren County Commission and Warren County School Board, Zechman is also well-known as a producer and personality on WCPI public radio.

“Bill served 22 years as a Warren County commissioner with a special interest in the Education Committee,” said Holly McBride in presenting the award. “Pursuing that concern and interest in bettering the education of Warren County children and providing the crucial support teachers and administrators must have, Bill is currently a member of the Warren County School Board.”

Zechman is program chair for the Rotary Club of McMinnville and was a charter member of McMinnville’s Noon Exchange Club.

Topz Frozen Yogurt and Metro Deli earned the Edwin Partin Chamber Retailer of the Year Award. In presenting the award, Kari Burnett told how the business has helped transform downtown McMinnville since opening in 2014.

“Topz Frozen Yogurt was an immediate hit,” said Burnett. “Suddenly teenagers, a rare sight on Main Street, finally had a cool spot to come hang out. About a year later, Metro Deli opened directly next door, offering soups and sandwiches and later expanding to pizzas, bringing a hip atmosphere more characteristic of Franklin, Tennessee.”

In accepting the award, owner Matthew Sands said, “We firmly believe if you’re good to the community, the community will be good to you.”

Botanico was presented the Free Enterprise Award.

“They are a wholesale nursery serving customers all over the United States and even exporting to Canada and China,” said award presenter Michael Detwiler of Litewire. “At any given time, they employ between 45 and 60 people. Their sales continue to grow year after year. They give tours to buyers, students, civic organizations and many others. They are incredibly generous each year supporting Warren County High School’s Project Graduation and sponsoring students in athletics, cheerleading and dance.”

Saint Thomas River Park CEO Dale Humphrey presented an inaugural award, the Community Impact Award, to The Hope Center, a nonprofit that offers a wide array of counseling services and life skill classes.

Humphrey noted officials at The Hope Center view addiction as a life-controlling problem, but drug counseling is just one of their many offerings.

“We never know what’s going to walk through our door, but we welcome everyone,” said Hope Center representative Lori Gretzinger Pierce in accepting the award.

She noted since last year, The Hope Center has seen 671 walk-ins, answered 883 calls, and conducted 621 sessions. Support groups include anger management, suicide, coping with divorce, and dealing with grief.

Another first-time award, Ambassador of the Year, was created to recognize the person who goes above and beyond in promoting the Chamber. Jason Hillis is the inaugural recipient.

Award presenter and Chamber employee Sarah Cantrell said nine people have been heavily involved in the new Chamber Ambassador Program, which was wildly successful in its first year. Since March, the group has been part of 17 ribbon cuttings, nine networking events, and 10 monthly meetings. It has referred more than a dozen new members to the Chamber.

A point system was used to determine which Ambassador Program member was most active and had the greatest impact in recruiting new members. Hillis was the winner with 94 points.

Said Hillis, “I want people to see the value of the Chamber and there are a lot of people who have good visions for this community. Having thriving businesses, regardless of size, is key to a community’s health.”