By Janie Southard
ST. MARYS -- Local food pantries are experiencing a shortage of donations as more and more voluntary help is going to hurricane victims in the deep south.
"We certainly understand the hurricane victims need help. But, we need to keep in mind that our local people are really hurting as the food pantries run short," said Deb Farrell, SOURCES director following the monthly meeting of the two-county assistance network last week.
That meeting included updates on the new Christmas program and new grants for existing programs.
For the first time in the event's history, the annual Christmas program this year will take place without a dinner, but it promises to benefit more children with presents they actually want.
"It will be on the order of a shopping mall with local agencies pooling their resources to provide assistance to families," Farrell said, adding the new format allows for families to get items they really need and can use. In years past, inappropriate gifts have been received, for example a teenager's gift may have been more suited to a toddler. Families need to register and be approved to receive the assistance.
Farrell said food baskets are being considered in lieu of the community dinner. "Since this is our first year with this, we don't know yet what the value of the baskets may be," she said.
SOURCES again will contract with Mercer County to facilitate the Community Home Improvement Program grant, which the county has received through the state, as it has for the past seven years. The two-year grant provides assistance for home improvement and repair and, this year, will assist two families with funding for down payment on a house.
"These will all be handled on a priority basis rather than first come/first served," she said.
Another grant received by Mercer County, which also will be used in Auglaize County, is for the ODOT Coordination Program. The program assists eligible residents with transportation to and from medical appointments, social services visits and rides to employment.
"We coordinate the trips so that we can accommodate the most people going to one location. We also encourage ride sharing," Farrell said.
A chicken dinner fundraiser is set for Oct. 21 with all proceeds going to the Emergency Assistance Fund. Tickets are $6 each and are available from the SOURCES office in Celina. The dinners will be available for pickup from 3:30 to 6 p.m. in the old Mersman parking lot on West Wayne Street.