The operators of the Hilliard Food Pantry expected a drop-off in visitors after relocating to a new facility Aug. 1, but they said the number of visitors to the pantry instead has increased.

"Every aspect of what we do has improved here," said Matt Austin, program director for the Hilliard Food Pantry, one of several programs of the Hilliard Community Assistance Council.

The Hilliard Food Pantry's new 3,700-square-foot location is on the campus of Life Community Church, 4400 Cemetery Road.

It previously was based in 1,800 square feet in the Hilliard Civic and Cultural Arts Center, 5454 Franklin St.

The new location offers parking, a more convenient and visible location along a COTA bus route, a separate entry and exit, and perhaps most importantly, public restrooms, Austin said.

The pantry was prepared for an initial drop-off in visits because of the move, Austin said, but after 346 visits in July, the final month at the Franklin Street, that number increased to 428 in August.

"I thought (visits) would go down, that people needed time to find our new location. I was wrong," he said. "I'm glad we can reach even more people."

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 receiving assistance has doubled since 2012, Austin said. That made a larger location necessary, he said.

Lynn Smith, a member of Life Community Church and a volunteer for the food pantry, was aware of the pantry's need and approached the church about the new location, said Rick Tawney, associate pastor at Life Community Church.

The portion of the church occupied by the food pantry was unused by the church, Tawney said. In exchange for its use, the food pantry made permanent improvements to the unfinished area the church had been using for storage, he said.

"A lot of incredible people worked together to make this happen," said Dan Burmeister, lead pastor at Life Community Church.

Through a fundraising campaign, contributions of $20,000 each from the Hilliard and Norwich Township and donations from a multitude of local organizations and corporations, the food pantry raised the $240,000 needed for the relocation, Austin said.

"This is an amazing facility," Hilliard Mayor Don Schonhardt said during a ribbon-cutting ceremony Sept. 18.

State Sen. Stephanie Kunze (R-Hilliard), state Rep. Allison Russo (D-Upper Arlington) and representatives of several Franklin County and Ohio agencies also attended.

"There is an ever growing need for (for food pantries)," Russo said.

The Hilliard Food Pantry is open from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesdays, 6 to 8 p.m. Thursdays and 9 a.m. to noon Saturdays.

For more information about the food pantry, to make donations or to schedule visits, go to hilliardfoodpantry.org.

kcorvo@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekCorvo