The past year for the Hilliard Food Pantry has involved several changes – not the least of which is the ongoing COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

But the pantry has found support in the community, including from partners like the Rotary Club of Hilliard.

For the past 40 years, the Rotary Club of Hilliard has supported the community in numerous ways, but members said the pandemic has been "a call to arms" to help other residents.

Founded in 1980, the club is a group of professionals that provides goodwill and humanitarian services when needed, said Greg Rokoff, community-service chairman for the club, which operates under the auspices of Rotary International.

The first club was founded in Chicago in 1905, and the Rotary's motto is, "Service above self."

Much of the work of the Rotary Club of Hilliard, which has 48 members, involves youths, including Interact clubs at each of the district's three high schools. The clubs at Bradley, Darby and Davidson high schools offer service opportunities to students within the schools and out in the community, Rokoff said.

The club also provides annual academic scholarships to students and organizes a speech contest.

Outside of the schools, the club works with several local nonprofit organizations, including SON Ministries and Families for a Cure, Rokoff said.

To provide such support, the Rotary Club of Hilliard has fundraisers, the largest of which are the Run to Remember 5K, held on or near Sept. 11, and "The Great Debate," an annual luncheon that features tongue-in-cheek debating between supporters of the Ohio State University and the University of Michigan and last year raised $60,000, Rokoff said.

As for the present needs of such organizations as the Hilliard Food Pantry, Rokoff called the pandemic "a call to arms."

Club members "knew right away the community's need for (the food pantry) would grow," he said.

The decision of the Hilliard Food Pantry to move to a new, larger location less than a year ago has proved fortuitous, as it can store approximately 10,000 pounds of food collected during community drives held April 29 and May 2.

Until last year, the food pantry utilized about 1,800 square feet of the Hilliard Civic and Cultural Arts Center at 5454 Franklin St.

In August, it moved into 3,700 square feet at Life Community Church, 4400 Cemetery Road.

"We would have to find a warehouse or maybe not even have had a drive (at the former location)," said Tammy Tucker, president of the food pantry's board of directors.

As part of that move to the church facility, the Rotary Club of Hilliard committed $20,000 over four years to make permanent improvements at the building.

"We built benches and bookshelves when the pantry opened because we wanted to make it more inviting," Rokoff said.

Future improvements include more refrigeration units, he said.

Beyond the annual $5,000 commitment for four years, the Rotary Club of Hilliard raised $15,000 for the food pantry during "Giving Tuesday" on May 5, a global fundraising effort for any charitable cause.

The food pantry received a total of $68,000 during the event, Tucker said.

The money will be used in part as reimbursement for the food the pantry was required to purchase from the Mid-Ohio Foodbank and other sources since mid-March, when it stopped accepting public donations because of health concerns related to the pandemic, Tucker said.

The May 2 food drive, which included drop-offs from members of Empty Pockets Cruisers, a group of classic-car owners, was large enough to force a brief closure of Cemetery Road between Brown Park Drive and Lacon Road to accommodate it, according to both Tucker and a tweet from the Hilliard Division of Police.

The April 29 and May 2 drives resulted in 18 pallets of food, with each weighing about 550 pounds, Tucker said.

The food was stored for three days before approximately 25 volunteers, including six Rotary Club members, spent about 350 hours sorting the food.

"(The pantry) was a little short on the number of sorters needed to get it all done that day, and we filled in the last six spots," Rokoff said.

The stockpile will allow the pantry to serve at the current rate for about three months, Tucker said.

The pantry received 807 visits in April; it averaged about 450 visits a month before the pandemic, Tucker said.

Hilliard City Council member Les Carrier was one of the volunteers who sorted food at the pantry May 6.

Carrier said he had helped the pantry in such a direct manner before, but this time he brought a new perspective: He and some family members had contracted and recovered from COVID-19 while they were on vacation in the Bahamas in March.

He said he embraced the volunteer opportunity for that reason and because he "wanted to get out of the house and do something."

In addition to having more food than ever before, the food pantry also has more cash than ever before, Tucker said.

"We're looking at buying a truck or a van (to make pickups and deliveries more convenient)," she said.

Meanwhile, Rokoff said, the Rotary Club of Hilliard will continue to help the pantry, both to promote its existence and to inform people that it can help.

No appointment is required and customers are received in a drive-thru. Families and individuals may visit twice a month, as needed, Tucker said.

The Hilliard Food Pantry may be contacted at 614-363-4159 or support@hilliardfoodpantry.org. Its hours are 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesdays, 6 to 8 p.m. Thursdays and 9 a.m. to noon Saturdays.

kcorvo@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekCorvo