Thursday, April 1st, 2010
By Shelley Grieshop
Donations down, demand up at largest food pantry in Mercer County
  CELINA - Donations have begun to dwindle again at the largest food pantry in Mercer County but demand continues to increase.
CALL Food Pantry Director Tim Clutter said food and cash donations have dropped drastically the last month.
"Fortunately, people were very generous in December and January and I'm hoping that helps carry us through April," he said.
The food pantry recently moved from Main Street to 240 N. Brandon St., Suite B, in Celina. It served a record number of families in November - 890, up about 20 percent from the year before. Numbers haven't dropped much since. Clutter estimated food was distributed to at least 700 families in March, although final tallies weren't available.
The need for food donations is statewide, as unemployment remains high. A recently-released report from the Ohio Association of Second Harvest Foodbanks showed the organization served more than 1.4 million people in 2009 - 18 percent more than three years earlier. In some cases, food pantries and soup kitchens are turning people away when they can't meet the demand.
Clutter said no one has been turned away at CALL, but shelves often are somewhat bare.
"I learned from the start . . . we need to have a steady supply of peanut butter, soup, meat and eggs . . . staple items," he said.
Staff distributed food to 103 families on opening day, March 19.
"In the first hour and 15 minutes we served 37 families," Clutter added.
During that first week, 263 families left with food to put on their tables.
Clutter and the board that governs the food pantry predicted that client numbers would rise 15 to 20 percent at the new location - and they were right.
"We had about 25 new families sign up since we opened here," Clutter said.
They believe the increase is due to the more discreet location. Entering a food pantry on Main Street - a very visible location - was embarrassing for many people, Clutter explained.
"It's a very, very humbling experience to come to a food pantry for help. People really have a hard time overcoming their pride," he said.
At the Brandon Avenue location clients enter from behind the business where the parking lot is hidden, he said.
The new building provides 40 percent more room than the downtown building at the same lease cost, Clutter said. The facility also is home to Sources Community Network Services, an organization that provides numerous services to income-eligible individuals and families.
Sources staff now helps check in and validate food pantry clients so CALL volunteers can focus their efforts on filling shelves and helping people find what they need, Clutter said.
Clutter would like to see a church or other organization come forward to provide meals to children during the summer months. He also envisions a 6-day a week free meal program offered locally for those families struggling to make ends meet.
"The (Celina) Ministerial Association has talked about this for sometime now," he said. "We've been so busy here . . . I know there's a need."

Call Food Pantry:
•  Hours: 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
•  Location: 240 N. Brandon St., Suite B, Celina
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