The PCMA Food Pantry of Pickerington was set to open a new facility this week that is nearly three times the size of its old home.

The PCMA Food Pantry of Pickerington was set to open a new facility this week that is nearly three times the size of its old home.

At 10 a.m. Thursday, March 1, the PCMA Food Pantry was slated to open its doors in a 2,900-square-foot space at 70 Cross St. in Olde Pickerington Village.

The move marks the beginning of a five-year lease the pantry has entered to operate at the new site. It also closes a chapter in the local food pantry's history, which saw it operate for 18 years out of the basement of the Pickerington-Violet Township Historical Society Museum at 15 E. Columbus St.

"I'm very excited about it," food pantry director Dianna Kassouf said. "I just can't wait to start serving clients here."

The food pantry relocated to Cross Street after permanently closing its former home on Feb. 23. That move forced it to miss two business days, but Kassouf said clients will find the new facilities superior to the old site.

"We're going from about 1,000 square feet, and that included two off-site storage spaces," she said. "Now we have approximately 2,900 square feet. Our old space could only fit two volunteers and two clients at a time. Now we have room for two-way (foot) traffic that will at least double the people we can serve at one time."

Among the other upgrades the new pantry affords, Kassouf said, is a reception area that's nearly as large as the former pantry, a multipurpose room that can be used as a volunteer break room, and additional offices where Kassouf can begin offering classes to the community.

"We'll hold classes on things like nutrition, or how to manage diabetes," she said. "We could have health screenings."

Additionally, the portion of the pantry where clients actually come to collect food and other household items is larger, has on-site coolers and freezers and will allow volunteers to stock from the rear of shelves while clients select from the opposite side. Kassouf said the set up will help volunteers ensure that food items are taken in a timely manner, and new, fresh items can be stocked as needed.

Arguably the crown jewel of the new site, however, is the pantry's rear warehouse where extra items are kept and large donations can be delivered. It features an overhead door, which will allow vehicles to back up to or enter the warehouse.

"This is a huge benefit for donors," Kassouf said. "The trucks will pull up and we'll be able to offload. Before, our volunteers had to unload outside and they had to go up and down steps."

Relocating the food pantry was made possible by community support, Kassouf said, but also by a partnership with United Way. The organization is providing a grant that will pay the majority of the pantry's monthly rent for the first three years of its lease.

"We still need the support of the community for both monetary and food donations," she said. "We rely on that, but we wouldn't have been able to do this without United Way supporting us."

Kassouf said the move was crucial for the pantry as it continues to serve a growing number of area residents in need.

In 2011, she said, the pantry served 3,894 individuals and 1,185 households. It served a total of 93,456 meals last year.

"That averages to roughly 100 families a month, and we did see approximately a 25-percent increase in households served," Kassouf said.

Upon reopening at the new site, the pantry will resume regular business hours of 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Mondays, and 10 a.m. to noon on Thursdays and Saturdays.

Additional information about the pantry and donating cash or food is available on the organization's website, www.pcmafoodpantry.com, or by calling (614) 834-0079.

Kassouf also noted tht reopening the pantry coincides with the launch of the Feinstein Foundation's annual "Giveaway to Fight Hunger."

For the 15th consecutive year, the Cranston, R.I.-based foundation and Alan Shawn Feinstein will divide $1 million among hunger-fighting agencies throughout the U.S., following a nationwide fundraising push in March and April.

The more donations of money and food each agency garners from March 1 to April 30 in the name of the Feinstein Challenge, the more money they potentially will receive from the Feinstein Foundation.

Agencies which raise the most donations as part of the pledge drive will be eligible to receive anywhere from $250 to $35,000 in foundation funds.

Those interested in helping the PCMA Food Pantry of Pickerington's cause in the Feinstein Challenge can do so by making financial or food donations at the pantry or on the pantry's website. They must, however, include a reference to the Feinstein Challenge on either the memo line of checks to the pantry, or as a note when making a payment online through the food pantry's PayPal account.