STEUBENVILLE - The men and women lined up outside of the Urban Mission Ministries warehouse have been a familiar sight in recent years.
Sunshine, rain or snow never deterred the monthly food distribution by the food pantry. But Urban Mission officials now are planning to convert the end-of-the-month distribution process into a grocery store that will offer food to qualified recipients.
"We are seeking financial or food donations until April 30 to help obtain matching funds from the Feinstein Challenge to fight hunger. Our goal is to raise $50,000 that would enable us to receive an additional $50,000 from Alan Shawn Feinstein. Every single dollar or food item donated to the Urban Mission by April 30 helps us to reach our Feinstein Challenge goal," explained the Rev. Ashley Steele, executive director of the Urban Mission Ministries.
"We plan on starting the renovation work at our warehouse this summer. Our Joshua Group volunteers will be able to help us do some of the work. We hope to hold a soft opening of our new store in late summer and be ready for full operations by the holidays later this year. We will need a structural engineer to look at what changes we can make at the warehouse to accommodate the customers. We are dealing with a 100-year-old building," Steele said.
"And the changes will mean we can change from the three-day food distribution held once a month to daily hours, some evening hours and Saturday hours. We will maintain the same sign-up process. But the store will have a point system that will allow the customer to take a basket or shopping cart to pick up so many meat, dairy, canned foods or fresh produce items. And instead of just handing a customer a bag of food, the customer who may not like peas will be able to get an extra can of corn or green beans," said Steele.
"We were lucky to obtain several coolers and freezers from Steubenville Fruit when they closed their operations. And we work with every grocery store in the area. We also buy through the Mid Ohio Food Bank. And we are looking into starting a community garden in the lot next to the warehouse. We won't be able to provide enough fresh fruit and vegetables for everyone. But we can teach interested people on starting and maintaining a garden," remarked Steele.
"Trinity Health System has also been a big help and has donated a number of shelving units we can use to set up our store," noted Steele.
"We know there is probably a certain amount of waste because a bag of food may include items a customer doesn't want. This new store will also eliminate the waste," she noted.
"But most important of all, the store will provide dignity for our clients. They won't have to stand outside the building trying to stay warm. And there is a certain stigma for the people who stand outside waiting for their turn in the warehouse," stressed Steele.
"We will also be working with the Jefferson County Fourth Street Health Center to offer menu planning classes as well as nutritional classes. Clients attending the classes can receive extra points for grocery items," Steele said.
According to Linda Smith, operations manager of the warehouse, the store also will allow volunteers to organize a special section of donated items.
"Sometimes we receive cleaning items or baby diapers. We don't have enough to put in every distribution bag but we will place those items on a shelf and allow clients to purchase them with points," said Smith.
"We have 1,700 families registered at the mission now. And I anticipate that number will increase with our store. So we will need help," Smith observed.
"The store system will also allow us to monitor what food items are more popular so we can control our order system more efficiently," Smith added.
Steele said the warehouse staff members also are planning to move the current coffee lobby to a new location in the building and to change the serve-yourself atmosphere to one where visitors will be served and also treated with dignity.
"So we will need more volunteers. We will need people stocking our grocery store shelves, welcoming people into the store or coffee shop and assisting the shoppers. We anticipate stocking shelves on a daily basis as our clients become used to the ability to shop through the month. We welcome new people to come and join us in assisting others," stated Steele.
"We have benefited in years past from the Feinstein challenge. And now is the time to give to the Urban Mission so we can create a new atmosphere for those in need. And for those people who have a passion to help the hungry, this is an excellent opportunity to help the community. We can all do something positive that will provide a benefit to others. We will need volunteers as we make this transition. Anyone who wants to stock shelves, help remodel the building or to help in any way can contact us at the Urban Mission at (740) 282-8011. We welcome everyone of all ages," Steele said.