M.A.S.H. Pantry and Resource Center plans to open in February a free pantry for military veterans at 222 E. William St., the current site of the Delaware County Community Market, which will close Dec. 24.

Rick Dinovo opened the market in 2010 in 1,000 square feet at the site between his business, Central Marketing Associates, and what then was a state liquor store.

The market, which sells fresh fruits and vegetables, baked goods, homemade prepared foods and handmade items, is operated as a nonprofit, and those whose produce is sold at the market can select a local nonprofit organization to receive 20 percent of proceeds from their sales.

Dinovo said he and his brother, Mike, owned 222 E. William until selling the building in April, and they charged the market no rent.

The decision to close the market was not made quickly, Dinovo said.

"We'd hoped the market (eventually) could be self-sufficient, and never really got that. ... It never could stand on its own. ... It did well (but) always needed a little help" financially, Dinovo said.

He said he's pleased the market was able to sell products worth $2.5 million in eight years, and to contribute about $400,000 to local nonprofits.

When local produce was in short supply during winters, he said, the market was stocked with produce from places such as California and Texas. That included fruit such as clementines and blood oranges, which he called "unusual, good-quality items."

Dinovo said he struggled with the question of how to close the market, until he saw the Nov. 4 story in ThisWeek Delaware News about M.A.S.H. Pantry's efforts to find a permanent location in the city.

At 8 a.m. the day the newspaper was delivered, he called M.A.S.H. President Amber Hudson and told her, "We've got just the place."

Providing space for the pantry, also a nonprofit, "allows us to transition," Dinovo said. "We can close our organization down. ... The IRS is happy. We're happy. ... It's the last piece of the puzzle to fall into place," he said.

The pantry will be staffed by volunteers, Hudson said.

Those selling produce at the market don't man booths. Produce, baked goods and crafts are coded with a vendor number.

Dinovo said those who have worked at the market for years "understood the situation. We've make allowances for them. We don't want to hurt any of those people who have worked very hard for the market and did a tremendous job."

M.A.S.H. Pantry opened in 2015 and operates free pantries in Grove City, Whitehall and at Rickenbacker Air National Guard Base. It also runs free produce markets for veterans in Columbus, Gahanna and Commercial Point.

M.A.S.H. stands for military and service heroes.

Hudson said the pantries and markets provide free food and clothing to any veteran or active-duty personnel with military or veteran identification, with no other requirements.

She said she was prepared for a long effort in finding a Delaware site, and is "kind of in shock" that one appeared unexpectedly.

"I want to thank Rick for reaching out to M.A.S.H.," she said. "We've been trying so desperately to make Delaware County one of our homes," she said. "This is a blessing."

M.A.S.H. "is a community effort," she said. "It's not run by a couple of people. We are a big family. We want veterans to feel like they are part of this from day one."

Tonya Freeman of Delaware will manage the pantry. Her son, Zach Myers, was serving in the Army when he was killed in Iraq at age 21 in 2009.

She said before her son died, "He really got the big picture and understood that serving his country and working with the Iraqi people was something bigger than himself, and he grew up overnight. I want to carry on for him and do something bigger than myself. ... There is a huge need for helping veterans. Frankly, I'm appalled our country doesn't do a better job of taking care of them."

She said the pantry will begin by offering food, adding clothing and other items later.

She said she and Hudson have taken classes in Columbus about opening a post-traumatic stress disorder support group in Delaware that will be open to anyone.

Hudson said the pantry hopes to hold a ribbon-cutting Feb. 2 and will solicit community support.

M.A.S.H. receives produce from the Mid-Ohio Foodbank and relies on local communities for help with nonperishable food and hygiene items. Hudson said she hopes local businesses and schools can serve as collecting points for those items, setting up, for example, a box where nonperishable food can be placed.

Dinovo said the building was sold to Scott Cubberly, who has other Delaware properties, and Central Marketing Associates will continue to pay rent on the pantry space, which has three years left on its lease.

Hudson said the three years will allow M.A.S.H. to establish a presence in Delaware, which will facilitate a move if one is needed.

For more information, visit mashpantry.org.

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