Mid-Ohio Market at HEART has hired Cheryl Wooten as the first executive director in the nonprofit's nine-year history.

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.

Through a partnership with Mid-Ohio Foodbank, HEART in November 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 weekly. There is no pound limit now; however, certain items, such as meat and milk, are limited per visit.

Its new location at 6674 E. Main St., Suite 101, is nearly three times the size of its former space.

"As HEART moved through its strategic planning process, we knew that expanding to the Mid-Ohio Market at HEART, continuing our weekend backpack ministry in the Reynoldsburg schools and working to bring in additional services to help our neighbors would require more staff," said Kay Arnold, chairwoman of the HEART board of directors. "The plan was to hire a director of operations, director of volunteers and an executive director. All three of these positions are now filled."

Leo Dubois is HEART's director of operations, and Gessica Peraza is HEART's director of volunteers.

Wooten is responsible for the overall administration and management of HEART, including developing new partnership and funding sources, Arnold said.

"Her background in the banking industry, coupled with her work in the nonprofit world -- especially her time working with food-insecure clients -- made her a perfect match for what HEART was looking for," Arnold said. "I am not sure we could have found a more perfect candidate to inspire the trust and confidence of the board, staff, volunteers and our partners."

Wooten, 64, worked in finance for 20 years before spending nearly a decade with WARM -- Westerville Area Resource Ministry. While there, she served as the director of development and communications and helped oversee its growth.

"I started out there helping to develop and create the development department and then went on to help develop the communications department and some other programs," said Wooten, a Westerville resident. (HEART) reminds me of the days I joined WARM. It's doing things that I love, and I felt that I could bring forward some of the things I learned there."

On the job since mid-December, Wooten said her short-term goal is to "address the massive growth."

The weekly market model has been "game changing," she said.

"They can come to us every single week; there is no scarcity mentality. It's about what they need to survive and thrive."

Before the shift, HEART was serving a few hundred each month.

"We're now serving nearly 1,000 people a week," Wooten said.

Although there is no typical client -- or "neighbor" as HEART refers to them -- the organization says the "face" of hunger in Reynoldsburg is a working mother with two children.

About 74% of its resources go to a household with at least one child or senior.

"Those thousand people are really word of mouth," Wooten said. "We've only scratched the surface. I can see that by summer, we're going to be about 1,500 (people) a week."

Finding ways to accommodate growth and expand the market's wrap-around services -- things like health care, child care, workforce development and nutrition -- are keys to the organization's long-term success, Wooten said.

She said she also hopes to help grow both the organization's financial donations and its volunteer base.

"It's about tangible, identifiable ways to help neighbors overcome their issues and giving them tools that they can use to move forward, out of poverty," Wooten said. "For example, once they get that job with a living wage, what does their budget look like? How do we help them navigate the potential loss of public services and are there other agencies that we can connect them with?

"What we're going to work on is laying the foundation for how to best serve our neighbors, developing the infrastructure that's going to help support and maintain HEART and its partnership with Mid-Ohio.

Many HEART clients also are active volunteers, a fact Wooten hopes will inspire others to get involved.

"What impressed me is knowing how the neighbors we're serving want to volunteer and give back their time," she said.

"Reynoldsburg is a community that addresses issues. It is not whether or not your community has concerns and needs. What makes you a great community is how you address those concerns and needs."

HEART is open 2 to 8 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays; 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesdays and 9 a.m. to 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.