The Hilliard Food Pantry fulfilled more than 4,000 service visits last year within the 1,800 square feet it occupies at 5454 Franklin St., at the back of the Hilliard Civic and Cultural Arts Center.

No more than three people at once may make selections at the small food pantry, and it is difficult to afford users privacy during the application process, said Matt Austin, program director for the Hilliard Food Pantry, one of several programs of the Hilliard Community Assistance Council.

But that should change in August, when the pantry plans to relocate to a 3,700-square-foot warehouse at the rear of Life Community Church, 4400 Cemetery Road.

The move is necessary because of both a need for more space and the expiration of a lease Sept. 30 for use of the city-owned building it shares with the Hilliard Arts Council, Austin said.

Life Community Church was seeking a best use for an unfinished portion of the church building, said Rick Tawney, associate pastor for the church.

"We were talking and praying about how to best use it," he said.

Lynn Smith, a church member who volunteered at the pantry, was aware of the pantry's need and began the discussions that led to the move, Tawney said.

"Life Community Church wants to be a light in the community and we are excited to be a part of this move," he said.

Interior construction at the church building will continue this summer to build restrooms, offices, shelves and other interior amenities before the pantry opens, said Tammy Tucker, president of the board of directors of the Hilliard Community Assistance Council.

The unfinished area of the building had been used for storage, and in exchange for investing in the permanent improvements, the food pantry will be able to use the church's space at no cost, Austin said.

Having a location twice the size will allow the food pantry to provide new services, he said.

Among these will be cooking demonstrations, job-search assistance and nutrition-awareness classes, Austin said.

"But we will let our families guide a lot of the new opportunities we can provide," he said. "After we open here, we will inquire about what they need and respond."

The new location will have private areas where those who seek assistance can apply for services.

Proof of residency within the boundaries of the Hilliard City Schools, either an acceptable form of identification or a utility bill, is required, as well as meeting financial requirements, Austin said.

Families are limited to one visit a month at Franklin Street, but each family will be permitted to visit two times at a month at the new site, he said.

The relocation comes at a cost: The food pantry needs about $240,000 for the move, Austin said.

About $145,000 is for the buildout, $95,000 for equipment and fixtures and $20,000 has been used for a fundraising campaign, he said.

"We're not moving much from the old site," said Austin, adding that the food pantry instead will purchase larger chest freezers and in turn have the ability to serve more families.

Approximately 17% of Hilliard City Schools households are income-eligible to receive assistance, he said.

Considering only service visits for food – excluding utility-bill assistance and two holiday events -- the food pantry fulfilled 3,579 service visits in 2018 and helped 13,835 individuals, Austin said. It was a 12% increase compared to 2017 and a 35% increase compared to 2016, he said.

The number of individuals who received assistance has doubled since 2012, Austin said.

Senior citizens comprise about 11% of individuals served and children represent 39%, Austin said.

Through the end of May, the food pantry had collected $170,000 toward its goal of $240,000 through its "So Others May Eat" campaign.

The Hilliard Community Assistance Council allocated $20,000 toward the $240,000 budget and the city of Hilliard and Norwich Township donated $20,000 each.

Hilliard City Council President Kelly McGivern said the food pantry "provides an important safety net for Hilliard residents living in poverty."

"We opted to support their efforts and help them move to a larger, more permanent location so they can expand on the services offered in our community," McGivern said.

A multitude of local organizations and corporations donated $110,000, but no one entity donated more than $5,000, Austin said.

"We have received so much support," he said.

That support includes in-kind contributions from numerous sources that have defrayed the cost of the relocation and buildout, he said.

In addition to donations of food or money, the Hilliard Food Pantry also relies on volunteer support to help stock the pantry, especially during holiday seasons when donations are greater than usual, Austin said.

To learn more about the food pantry or inquire about volunteering, go to hilliardfoodpantry.org.

kcorvo@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekCorvo