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When the Ashville Food Pantry announced last year their plan to build a new facility, they expected the fundraising process to last three to five years. Little did they know what was to come. Not only did they raise the funds quickly, they were under roof and serving the community just in time for Thanksgiving.
How did they do it so quickly?
With the support of their community and contributions from the most unexpected sources.
That support came via everything from dollars and dimes to a large anonymous contribution to in-kind donations. While the cost of the project was estimated to come in around $250,000, the showing of respect and support for their mission in the community was priceless.
Director Kris Smith and Board members Ron Delucia and Ed White simply shook their heads when asked how they raised all that money so quickly. “We never dreamed that the fundraising would go so easily. We expected it to take years, not months,” Kris said. “It started with a talk at the Civic Club where I’m a member. I asked the club to donate $7,500 and they donated $10,000. I was floored but it gave me the confidence to start asking more. So now I’m the town beggar,” she exclaimed.
They said that many community members gave their stimulus checks while others gave what they could spare which maybe was just a few dollars.
Those donations came in fast and furious including many in the form of labor and supplies. Ed took the lead on overseeing the construction and said he was amazed at how it all came together. “It was kind of a shock when things just started rolling. We have a great team and everyone does their part to help.”
Columbia Gas donated the gas tap while other donors provided the water and sewer taps and one kind individual gave $50,000 anonymously. The excavation, concrete floor, paving and downspouts were all donated allowing the project to come in under budget and with a little cash to spare.
Ed was very thoughtful about some of the decisions they made when it came to materials and functional design. He is eager to point out the small details that make the place run smoothly and the things they were able to do to make the utility bills less costly. “The space just makes a lot more sense and we have plenty of space for storage but it’s more energy efficient too.”
In fact, he said the new facility has been a game changer for the volunteer board and staff and for how they are able to serve their clients.
The food pantry was started in 1982 by Katie Dum and Inga and Pastor David Koch of the First English Lutheran Church. Representatives of local churches make up an executive board that oversees the operation of the food pantry which was previously located in a home that is owned by the church. That house was not equipped for the food pantry’s growing needs as it lacked the room to store, sort and bag the massive amounts of supplies needed each month.
Size limitations caused donation day to take place outside even in the cold of winter. There was no easy way to move the client bags out of the house other than one bag at a time.
Today, a roll up door makes it easy to bring in large shipments of donated items for sorting. Tall metal carts glide easily over the concrete floor and reinforced heavy duty shelving provides ample space for storage. The building is handicap accessible and equipped with a bathroom. Cold storage units were purchased with grants from South Central Power giving the food pantry the new luxury of on-site freezer and refrigerator space.
All three readily admit that having everything on one floor and the carts for moving supplies have been a blessing for their aging volunteer force. “We can load 48 bags on each cart and it’s much easier on our backs,” Ron explained.
The food pantry is run entirely by volunteers and even the director’s position is unpaid.
They do two distribution days every month. The bags include staples including canned soup, fruit and vegetables, peanut butter, cereal, pasta and sauce, tuna, ramen noodles, jelly and mac and cheese. The first forty bags also include a dozen eggs, cheese and bread. Clients are eligible to receive one bag of supplies each month.
At Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas the bags include special foods for holiday meals. For example, at Thanksgiving clients receive a turkey and a disposable pan to cook it in along with all the fixings for a traditional holiday dinner.
They also give fresh produce each time and clients can receive produce on both of those distribution days. Ron and other volunteers take turns picking up a truckload of produce each month from the fairgrounds in Circleville. The produce donation varies each month but may include celery, potatoes, zucchini, sweet corn, berries, carrots or whatever is in season at the time.
While the produce comes from the Mid-Ohio Foodbank the rest of their donations come from local businesses, schools, churches and individuals. In fact, the schools had a fill the bus campaign at their Homecoming game in September. Not only did they fill one bus, they were able to fill two school buses with donations. Individual classes get in on the action with cereal drives or canned food drives throughout the year. Panera in Canal Winchester even helps by donating day old bread. The partner churches have regular food drives as well, each one assigned a specific kind of food that is most needed at the time.
“It’s incredible because all we have to do is say that we are low on cereal this month or that we need mac and cheese and people always step up to help. This community gives and gives, maybe sometimes when they don’t have it to give. They’re good to us, they’re good neighbors,” Kris said.
The Ashville IGA donated the Thanksgiving turkeys and sells the food pantry eggs and cheese at cost. In December, County Line Meats donated a pound of ground beef for every order placed that month and encouraged their customers to donate a pound as well. In all, they were able to deliver 110 pounds of ground beef to the food pantry at the first of the year.
While they do collect basic information from each client, they do not require proof of income to receive these food donations. They point out that their clients are using the food pantry as needed rather than simply because it’s there. In fact the average client comes just seven to eight times a year. “They’re not coming just because they can get something for free or to take advantage. They’re coming when they truly need to and we’re just glad to be here to help,” Kris said.
She explained that their largest client base is the age 65 and up group. “Many of them are alone and they rely on us to help them through the month. Their spouse has died and they have lost a good part of their income but they still have the same rent and electric bills. Their cost of living doesn’t go down and buying food often is at the bottom of the list because they’re choosing between food and medicine,” she explained.
Ron affirmed that the need is real. “We have people tell us they don’t have any food at home and that this will really help. They have tears in their eyes and they don’t argue with what they get, they don’t complain. They always seem to be glad to see us and we’re just as glad to see them,” he said.
They have a delivery schedule that reaches homebound people in the community. For those folks who can’t get out to shop, they also provide some necessities like laundry detergent and toilet paper. For individuals with pets, the food pantry accepts donations of small pet food as well.
For all the wonderful generosity toward the food pantry, February and March tend to be slower months for donations even though the need is year round. They invite anyone who wishes to help to consider that winter is a time when food pantries tend to need assistance the most.
“We couldn’t be more grateful for the community and for all they have done for us. When we were here building, neighbors brought water and meals and cookies over for the guys working. People have given in ways we never imagined,” Kris said.
It is clear that the food pantry and its volunteers are there simply to be good neighbors. “We aren’t here to judge or to make someone feel bad because they’re here for a helping hand. We’re just here to be that helping hand,” Kris explained.
Ron added “I think the Lord would be really happy with what we’re doing to help others.”
The Ashville Food Pantry serves the residents of Teays Valley Local School District with food assistance and emergency food. They also provide limited financial assistance for housing and utility needs. Want to help? There are bins on the front porch for dropping off food donations after hours. Monetary donations can be made via credit card and PayPal at this link or by sending a check payable to Ashville Food Pantry to 20 Church Street, Ashville, Ohio 43103.
Want to get involved? They are always in need of volunteers to help with all manner of work including sorting donations, packing bags and helping with giveaway day. Keep up with their news, events and needs by following them on Facebook or call 614.687.2442 for information.