The HEART food pantry finally has a space big enough to match the area's need --as well as a new name.

CORRECTION: The dedication for the Mid-Ohio Market at HEART will be 10 a.m. Dec. 17. Because of a reporter's error, the print and earlier online version of this story had the incorrect time.

The HEART food pantry finally has a space big enough to match the area's need --as well as a new name.

Now called Mid-Ohio Market at HEART, the pantry has moved a few doors to a space three times as large, at 6674 E. Main St., suite 101.

Founded in 2011 as a Christian-based pantry by the Reynoldsburg Ministerial Association, HEART -- Helping East Area and Reynoldsburg Today -- serves those in the 43068 ZIP code and surrounding areas living below 200% of the federal poverty line.

Its new name and location stem from a partnership with Mid-Ohio Foodbank, with a focus on making more nutritious food available more often.

In November, HEART transitioned from a monthly pantry, where clients could get up to 80 pounds of food once a month, to a weekly choice market, where clients can shop for food once a week. There is no pound limit now; however, certain items such as meat and milk are limited per visit.

There is no average HEART client, or "neighbor" as the organization refers to them, said Leo Dubois, operations manager.

"Previously, you could get five days of food, but only once a month. The vegetables would go bad really quick, and we had neighbors going to different pantries to fill their needs," Dubois said. "People have cried since the opening of the new market. Then when I say, 'Come back next week,' and they say, 'You mean I come back next week?' People are just ecstatic."

Poor nutrition was a major concern, but it wasn't the only one, Dubois said.

Clients had difficulty transporting 80 pounds of food at one time, and it also was hard for HEART to keep food fresh in the space available.

Gone are the household refrigerators the organization once relied on to store perishables like dairy, meat and produce. A 10-by-15 freezer, donated by Mount Carmel Health System, allows HEART to store thousands of pounds of meat. A similarly sized walk-in cooler, purchased at a discount from Ohio State University, helps keep crates of fruits and veggies fresh, Dubois said.

Mid-Ohio Foodbank now makes multiple deliveries each week, to help keep HEART's shelves stocked. It has shifted the market from an emphasis on boxed and shelf-stable items, which often contain preservatives and higher amounts of fats, sugar and salts, to one in which clients are encouraged to fill their carts with everything from corn and cucumbers to oranges and zucchini.

"We went from a Band-Aid to the ability to put real food out there," Dubois said. "Seeing fresh produce being delivered three times a week is huge, and now we have an emphasis on fresh fruits and vegetables. I'm curious to see down the line what the health impact will be."

In addition to food provided by Mid-Ohio, HEART volunteers pick up donations several times a week from nearly a dozen area grocers and restaurants.

"We cannot do this without our volunteers, the grocery stores that also provide a lot of food, our church partners and community partners. We want this to really be a community market where it's really a function of the community. We're hoping to get more people to volunteer, donate financially and pray for us. It's neighbor helping neighbor," said Kay Arnold, chairwoman of the HEART board of directors.

"Nobody wants to have to go to a food pantry or a market to get help. Our statistics show that people aren't coming all the time, they are coming when they need to be there. People are very diligent about only taking what they know they can use for that week. It's not a matter of 'how much can I take;' it's a matter of 'how much do I need?'

"We don't always know what people's situations are, and we try to give dignity and respect whenever they walk through the door."

Sealed concrete floors and bright green paint greet visitors at the new market. Aisles that are five-and-a-half-foot wide can accommodate 40 new, double-basket style shopping carts donated by Kroger, and neighbors are welcome to fill the top half with as much produce as it can hold, Dubois said.

Other items, like milk, eggs and meat, are offered in limited quantities per visit.

HEART hopes to use a portion of the extra space to have "wrap-around" services, like medical wellness and cooking and nutrition demonstrations. Plans for a small cafe area where neighbors can visit after shopping are also in the works.

"We want to be able to bring in more wrap-around services to work with our neighbors in a holistic approach. The food insecurity is just one symptom of the problem. Helping them find the health care they need, the jobs they need, the mental healthcare services they need, that's where I see us moving with our vision in the next 10 years," Arnold said.

In Reynoldsburg, the "face" of hunger is a working mom with two children, HEART officials said. About 74% of its resources go to a household with at least one child or senior citizen.

"In November of last year, we served a total of 387 families and only 27 were new families," Arnold said. "We served 1,837 families this November, in our first month being open as the new Mid-Ohio Market at HEART. Of those, 442 were new families. We wanted to make the market more neighbor-centric so it's open when they are off work. It's going to be interesting now that we're weekly to see how many return customers we have and how often they come to the market."

Some clients are working two or three jobs and still qualify for assistance, Dubois said.

"I always had the mindset that it's people who don't want to work and they are asking for things," he said of his view before he started with HEART more than five years ago. "I met a lady, and she changed my mind. Her husband had Alzheimer's, and he died and she was raising a special-needs child by herself. Then her father ended up dying and her mom had Alzheimer's. She was now taking care of a special-needs son and a disabled mother and now she comes to the market. It made me reevaluate myself."

A team comprising HEART staff and volunteers spent much of the year planning for the transition.

"We knew we didn't want to move far. We wanted to be near the bus line, near Main Street and be where the neighbors need it most. Then there was the issue of re-educating our neighbors on shopping once a week versus once a month," Dubois said. "Now it's turned into pride. There was a lady walking around the other day with only five items in her cart. She spent half an hour just walking around like she was in a grocery store, which is exactly what we want. We tell our neighbors; this is your store and you can come here and get what you need."

HEART will hold a ribbon-cutting and dedication celebration at 10 a.m. Dec. 17.

The Mid-Ohio Market at HEART is open 2-8 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays; 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Wednesdays and 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. The pantry is closed Sundays and Mondays. For more information, call (614) 600-6065 or go to heart-market.org/.

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