Faced with the loss of a display freezer, the Pickerington Food Pantry is asking the community for financial help that would continue to allow the organization to provide beef, pork and poultry to people it serves.
Three months after taking over as the pantry's executive director in November 2017, Vanessa Niekamp was confronted with the first repair for the pantry's three-door freezer.
Since then, there have been several more repairs to the freezer that was used when it came to the pantry in 2011. Niekamp said she is facing the reality that a replacement is needed.
"We've paid multiple times just in the two years I've been here to have it repaired," she said. "Each time we have it fixed, they say we need to have a plan to replace it because we're getting toward the end of its life."
The pantry has a pair of large auxiliary freezers in its garage area where food donations are accepted, and they are used to store meats.
But Niekamp said the large freezers are not conducive to serving clients who come the pantry -- 70 Cross St., Suite B -- to select food to take home.
The pantry provides more than 194,000 meals annually to community members who might otherwise not have a meal to put on their table, she said.
"People can't shop from those (auxiliary freezers) because if those opened nonstop for people to shop, just in that two-hour time period that people come in, it would take forever to re-reach the freezing level (temperature)," she said.
The type of display freezer the pantry has retails for about $10,635, according to advertisements Niekamp displayed from restaurant-equipment supply businesses.
She said the Wasserstrom Co. has offered a discount to the nonprofit pantry that would drop the price to approximately $9,000. The pantry is well short of that mark after searching for grant assistance since November and soliciting donations over the past couple of months.
"The biggest funding source we've had so far is from 100 Women Who Care here in town," she said. "They've given $3,000."
As of March 10, Niekamp said, the pantry had raised $4,452.
"We're almost halfway," she said. "We're able to buy things (with donations) through the (Mid-Ohio Food Collective). For every dollar raised, we're able to purchase $11 of food through the ... food bank.
"But equipment is completely and totally our responsibility, and it's not something that we keep a large amount of a reserve for to try to replace items because our No. 1 focus is really putting food in people's bellies.
"Now that we're faced with replacing a large piece of equipment, it drives us to have to go to the public."
In addition to a mailing in recent weeks to individuals who previously have donated to the pantry, Niekamp is asking for help through the organization's Facebook page and on it's website, pickeringtonfoodpantry.org.
Checks may be mailed to Pickerington Food Pantry, 70 Cross Street, Suite B, Pickerington, OH, 43147.
"With donations from our local grocery stores, the pantry can provide meat to clients on a monthly basis," Niekamp said. "The meat received by the pantry is frozen to preserve freshness.
"The pantry is asking for donation toward the purchase of a new freezer so they may continue to provide the same level of service to those in need."
Niekamp said she'll continue to use the old freezer.
If it fails before $9,000 is raised, she said, pantry officials will have to see if it can purchase a smaller freezer to place on the shopping floor, or staff will have to improvise and be careful to make sure meat it is offering is frozen when clients shop.
"Without it -- if it just totally went out and we don't have the money to replace it -- we're going to have to try to basically pull some items from (the back), bring them up in carts and let people shop from those, but we're not going to be able to provide the same level of service," she said.
"We never buy meat. Meat is always donated to us. It's something we receive at absolutely no cost. To be able to utilize all of the meat that we get, we have to keep it frozen because we receive it frozen.
"(Meat) is something we would hate to turn away because it's free protein for people, but we have to have a way to store it and keep it frozen."