GARRETTSVILLE - On a typical Monday, Joe Leonard and other volunteers are passing out food to 20 or so of the 250 families they serve at the Nelson-Garrettsville Community Cupboard. This Monday, they were instead searching for a new home for the food pantry that was among the 13 Main Street businesses destroyed in a large fire Saturday.
"We were good for about two to three months but right now we have zippo," Leonard said. "I shouldn't really say that because we've been receiving donations left and right; the support has been beyond belief."
The two-year-old food pantry moved into the newly remodeled space on Main Street, which had been fixed up for this very purpose, in November to be more centrally located.
At the time of the fire the pantry had been "stocked up nicely" from local winter food drives held by the Garfield schools. It also housed a donated refrigerator/freezer along with computers and files on clients.
Volunteer Liz Eustace was out of town when she heard about the fire. She immediately checked her Facebook account to watch footage that had been posted of the blaze.
"It was just shocking, you're looking at the firefighters shooting water and there are flames in the food bank and then the windows go, you can't believe what you're seeing," she said.
Tribune Chronicle / Margaret Thompson
Michele Elias, left, and Liz Eustace look through the window of a building on state Route 88 where they plan to house the Nelson-Garrettsville Community Cupboard.
She, Leonard and others gathered at a location about three miles outside of Garrettsville on state Route 88. The building that appeared to have previously housed an auto repair shop is top on their list as a temporary location for the food pantry.
"We are hoping to be up and running in a temporary location in the next two to three weeks so we can begin servicing our clients again," founding member Michele Elias said.
Taking care of the families they serve is their main priority now. Eustace said the food bank has never turned away anyone in need.
"The one day we had a call, she had called a church in the area and she said she couldn't get anybody to help. She had been late getting to one of the other food banks and she called us. She had a baby and two young children. She said she had no formula or diapers and she goes, 'I'm not getting paid until who knows when,'" Eustace said. "So we went down to the food bank and we got some stuff together for her; we filled up a box."
Looking around the empty building with its large glass windows facing route 88, the volunteers were already figuring where they would put shelving for the food supplies and where they would be able to hold the reception area. Food donations are being gathered at the The Weekly Villager on Main Street and Rick Patrick's Auto Service on Brosius Road, while cash donations are being taken at the Middlefield Bank.
"The overwhelming support and the way the community has come together, almost before the flames were out, the way the community has come together has been fantastic," Elias said. "It really reaffirms your faith in everybody else, you know from bad things, good things will come."
As the group prepared to head out from the location, Leonard exchanged a thumbs up with another member who was talking with the property owner. The signal meant they had found their new home, until Main Street is rebuilt at least.
"We're looking forward to moving back in," Leonard said.