AUGUSTA — The region’s business community will come together Friday to celebrate its members’ accomplishments in much the same way that business and schooling has been conducted in the past year: Online.

The Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce has organized a virtual Kenney Awards ceremony in place of the popular black-tie event that traditionally takes place every January, even as public health restrictions continue to limit the size of public gatherings during the global COVID-19 pandemic.

“Especially after 2020, we really still wanted to have the Kenney Awards to be able to showcase our community,” Katie Doherty, Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce president and CEO, said. “Everybody went above and beyond, and did great things.”

During the online ceremony, those with tickets will be able to tune in and see the video presentations, hear the speeches and vote for nominees in two award categories: CYNERGY Young Professionals and President’s Circle Award.

As has been its tradition, the chamber has announced the winner of three awards before the event. It’s doing the same thing this year, but one of the those three awards has changed.

Ordinarily, three nominees are considered for the Community Service Award and are voted on by those attending the annual event at the Augusta Civic Center.

“This year, with the way everything was,” Doherty said, “the Augusta Food Bank stood out for community service. They went above and beyond. The board decided when (the food bank) was one of the nominations to make them the winner.”

Bob Moore, executive director of the Augusta Food Bank, said the award is a nice pat on the back for all the volunteers as well as all the people who have worked at food bank in its 40-year history.

To meet the increased need for food in Augusta and Manchester, the food bank took in 800,000 pounds of donated food in 2020, a 30% increase over 2019, Moore said, and that equates to a value of $1.3 million. Costs for purchased food doubled to more than $90,000. The result was providing 600,000 meals, about a 27% increase over the year before. Some of the food was distributed through a food share program with area food banks.

“The need was huge,” Moore said.

The COVID-19 pandemic also changed how the food bank served area residents, by reorganizing its schedule, creating and distributing Kid Packs and offering Free Food Thursday, which routinely has people lining up to take part more than an hour before food bank on Mount Vernon Avenue opens. The food bank also coordinated two food giveaways in Augusta and October that drew hundreds of area residents.

“We’re a business that would love to work ourselves out of business,” Moore said. “There will always be a need for food, but I do think you can eliminate food insecurity by looking at the distribution model and looking at ways to distribute it.”

The Large Business of the Year and Small Business of the Year award winners also have been announced.

Woodlands Senior Living has been named the Large Business of the Year.

The Maine-based company started in Hallowell in 1980 with a 39-resident boarding home. In the four decades since then, the company has grown to operating 15 residential communities offering memory care, assisted living or private apartments from Cape Elizabeth to Brewer.

Matthew Walters, managing member and one of the company’s owners, said earning the recognition after 2020 and the global COVID-19 pandemic is particularly meaningful.

“It’s a testament to the inspiring level of commitment of our staff, who really worked harder than ever before to realize our mission,” he said. “The mission of our organization is to make each day the best day possible for the residents we serve while bringing peace of mind to those who love them.”

Sprague & Curtis Real Estate has been named the Small Business of the Year.

“We’re thrilled and honored,” Bill Sprague, owner and president of the Augusta-based real estate company, said. “It’s a wonderful award and we’re very pleased.”

The company, which serves the greater Augusta area, was founded by Sprague’s father in 1957 with two or three agents and Sprague started working there in 1978. Today, there are eight or nine agents. Over the last decade, the company has completed about 500 transactions a year. And during that time, the company has been a strong supporter of the communities and its events.

“We work hard to help people and we enjoy real estate,” Sprague said.

This year, no Peter G. Thompson Lifetime Achievement Award — one of the awards announced in advance — will be given because members submitted no nominations, Doherty said.

Tickets for the event are available through the chamber, either on its website, kennebecvalleychamber.com, or by calling 207-623-4559 through Wednesday. Ticket packages range from parties of eight to a quarantine ticket for one. With the tickets come access to the event, voting rights, a takeout voucher from an area restaurant good for the day of the event and an entry for a giveaway.

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