FOSTORIA - Pantry Plus of Seneca County is located in downtown Fostoria, but it offers assistance to anyone living in Seneca County.
The food pantry has been through a number of changes during its lifetime. It opened as the Fostoria Food Pantry in 1982 on West Tiffin Street with the Red Cross. Both charities moved to 115 S. Main St. in 2000.
In September 2011, the Red Cross donated the building and a vehicle to the food pantry, which has been reorganized and renamed Pantry Plus of Seneca County. John Sherer, retired Red Cross director, serves as public relations and events coordinator for Pantry Plus. The organization receives no government funding.
PHOTO BY MARYANN KROMER
Linda Kimmet, a volunteer from Tiffin, straightens the shelves at Pantry Plus.
Although it started as a box pantry in which clients picked up a pre-packaged box of items, the pantry now operates in a choice format. Volunteers are available to assist clients with selections.
"Most of our clients come from the Fostoria area; however, anyone who lives in Seneca County is eligible to use our pantry in downtown Fostoria," Sherer said. "We have had clients from as far away as Republic use our facilities."
Tiffin and Seneca County agencies also refer some of their emergency clients to Pantry Plus. The office is open for food pick-ups 9:30-11:30 a.m. Fridays.
To qualify for assistance, clients should provide the following:
Proof of current residency in Seneca County or in the Fostoria 44830 zip code (such as a phone, electric, gas, water bill or rent receipt).
Proof of a household income that is less than the federal income guideline.
A list of people living in the household, with dates of birth.
"They can come every 30 days. We have a basket here for them to take through the line. We let them pick out things in different categories," said director Stacy LaFountaine, who has worked with the food pantry for 13 years. "We try to give them enough food for three days, to get them through the hardship times."
If an emergency happens when the pantry is closed or those in need can't get to the pantry Friday, alternate arrangements can be made. Clients take home their supplies in re-usable shopping bags they are asked to bring back.
The pantry has seven freezers to hold meat and other perishable items. Sherer said the staff tries to offer nutritious choices. Charts have been prepared as guides for families of different sizes.
LaFountaine does the ordering and a volunteer comes in Tuesdays to stock the shelves before Friday. The pantry also gives out paper products and personal items when they can be obtained at a good price. Arm and Hammer donates large quantities of laundry products that are given out, Sherer said, pointing out large jugs of detergent.
"This is just way too much for us to give to every person, so we made up our own bottles and they bring them back," he said.
Records for the pantry are maintained online with a program called Pantry Trak, set up by West Ohio Food Bank. A file can be set up for each client, but Sherer said the file only includes information pertinent to eligibility for the service.
Clients also can be referred to WSOS, St. Vincent de Paul and other agencies and offices for other kinds of assistance. Pantry Plus also collaborates with other community agencies and groups for projects such as the annual Back-To-School Shoe program and the local (holiday) clothing and toy collections.
Sherer said "there is room for expansion" of the pantry, but he would meet with other agencies in the area before making that move.
Sherer and LaFountaine credit their 30-plus conscientious volunteers for the continuing success of the organization. In addition to operating the pantry, the volunteers also work at bingo every Wednesday at Tiffin Mall.
"I've been on lots of boards over the years, and committees and all types of things, but I've never been associated with a board that everyone works. It is unbelievable," Sherer said.
LaFountaine agreed. Sherer said retirees comprise the board, so work schedules are not a problem. In addition, all the donations are used to help local residents.
Sherer said Pantry Plus also tries to spend the money in the area when buying supplies. In addition to donations, the organization spent more than $10,000 for Thanksgiving and Christmas combined.
"Definitely, when we do our big holiday baskets, we're patronizing the three local grocery stores that are trying to help us out," LaFountaine said, "and we couldn't do this without West Ohio Food Bank."
Donations of cash and food are always accepted. People who want to help can buy one extra food item each week, put it in a bag at home and drop off the bag at Pantry Plus when a significant number of donations has accumulated. Groceries also can be dropped off 4-9 p.m. Wednesdays at the bingo hall at Tiffin Mall.
Food items accepted include coffee, tea, hot chocolate; peanut butter and jelly; canned meats and tuna, broth, fruits, vegetables, soups and stews, pasta, tomatoes, condiments; boxed dry cereal, oatmeal, macaroni and cheese, crackers, instant potatoes, rice, pancake mix, pudding or jello; cake mixes; salad dressing.
Non-food items needed are liquid dish soap and laundry detergent; bathroom tissue, facial tissue, paper towels; shampoo and conditioner; toothpaste and toothbrushes.
Gift cards also are welcome.
Donations can be mailed to Pantry Plus of Seneca County, 115 S. Main St., Fostoria, OH 44830. For emergency situations or to volunteer, call (419) 619-0183 or email email@example.com.