By Bradford Sherman
When Extension educator and Pike County Local Foods Group (PCLFG) organizer Tammy Jones visited the Reeb Avenue Center in Columbus as part of a series of field trips to learn about how other counties provide local foods to residents, she was left with one overwhelming conclusion…
“I can’t believe this is a food pantry,” she thought, “this is a market.”
Six years, one Voices for Food grant, and a lot of project planning and hard work later, the vision she saw that day has finally made its way to southeastern Ohio in the form of a revamped Pike Outreach Food Pantry. It was formally unveiled to the public April 5.
Residents of Pike County, historically one of the unhealthiest areas in all of Ohio, are now benefitting from a healthier and more helpful and dignified experience at their local food pantry. It truly does look and feel like a market since moving to its new location on Bridge Street in Waverly, and thanks to a facelift made possible through USDA grant dollars.
“The whole idea that it looks like a market now,” explained Jones. “For example, they did not have coolers that you could see what was inside, it was a refrigerator. Now these new coolers have the nice glass fronts.”
The public shopping space is around three times larger than the old 2nd Street location. The entirety of the new facility, the former Heritage Nazarene Church, is around 10 times the size when factoring in storage space, receiving area, and other spaces.
“There is also a nutrition component now that wasn’t there before,” Jones continued. She explained that new signage and educational materials now adorn the brand-new shelves and coolers, and pantry staff have received training so they can function as shopping assistants who promote nutrition as they are helping people.
“These trainings that Dan (Remley) and I did with them will allow them to assist clients in making healthier choices and understanding that they need to be eating from different food groups,” she added.
The pantry had also been operating as non-choice, meaning visitors had to make do with what items they were given, for the past few years during the COVID-19 pandemic. Thanks to this project, visitors to the pantry can once again select their own food.
Not only does a choice system cut down on food waste, as with non-choice systems people would often be given items they do not like or cannot eat, but it also benefits those living with chronic conditions that require certain dietary needs, pointed out Dr. Dan Remley.
“Research shows that around a third of people who use food pantries have someone in their household with diabetes, and around two thirds have someone in their household with some other kind of chronic disease like hypertension or heart disease,” said Remley, a nutrition and wellness specialist who acts as a “coach” for the PCLFG membership.
“It is important that they have access to healthier choices and a variety of food to select from that will meet their needs. They can choose – that is one of the advantages of this system, it is promoting healthy choices and distributing useful foods.”
The Pike Outreach Food Pantry is available to residents who meet certain economic guidelines. They can visit the pantry once every seven days and the amount of food distributed is based on household size.
Jones revealed additional plans that Pike County Extension has in conjunction with the pantry. Plans have been discussed for an “Extension Day at the Pantry,” perhaps once a month, where she and other members of the office will provide food demonstrations, educational sessions, etc.
Originally awarded in 2019, but delayed because of the pandemic, six counties in Ohio received funding from this Voices for Food grant; Pike was the only county south of Columbus to be selected. The grant dollars totaling around $14,000 paid for education and training, shelving, and other supplies. The new building was secured using separate funds.
The Pike Council Outreach Council of Churches has operated a food pantry to assist needy Pike County residents since 1968. Anyone interested in becoming involved as a volunteer or donating to their community work, can call the Pike County Outreach Council at (740) 947-7151.