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The Van Wert County Courthouse

Thursday, Apr. 27, 2017

DAVE MOSIER/independent editor

The Salvation Army’s local office has a newly-renovated facility and a list of new outreach activities, including a special room for an upcoming teen program, a feeding program now operating that provides hot meals to needy area residents and a “Choice Pantry” program that gives clients the ability to “shop” for their own food donations.

A new Teen Room is included in the newly-renovated Salvation Army headquarters at 120 N. Cherry St. in Van Wert. The building also includes expanded food storage space, a conference room, updated chapel, nursery, walk-in cooler, library, improved office facilities, and a commercial kitchen (more photos in later this afternoon). Dave Mosier/Van Wert independent

A new Teen Room is included in the newly-renovated Salvation Army headquarters at 120 N. Cherry St. in Van Wert. The building also includes expanded food storage space, a conference room, updated chapel, nursery, walk-in cooler, library, improved office facilities, and a commercial kitchen. Dave Mosier/Van Wert independent

According to Lt. Josh Morales, the current building on North Cherry Street was purchased in 2014, and the Salvation Army began renovating it in February of that year. The first phase of renovations was completed in October 2015 and the west portion of the building was occupied then.

Fundraising efforts were completed for the second phase of the project in July 2016, with staff moving into that portion of the building in mid-February of this year.

Lt. Morales said the Cherry Street building is approximately three times as large as the Salvation Army’s old facility on South Washington Street. In addition, the new building has a walk-in cooler that allows for the storage of perishable items — something the organization couldn’t offer food pantry customers before and a new commercial kitchen that has allowed the Salvation Army serve hot meals once a week.

“We really can do everything better (than in the old facility),” Morales said. “We have a bigger food pantry, we have (more) food storage, we have a space in which we could start our Choice Pantry program, and we have more efficient office space.”

The walk-in cooler has been a considerable benefit for the Salvation Army, Morales noted, since it has resulted in larger donations of meat and other perishable items the organization couldn’t have handled before.

He went on to say that K & K Meats and Ebel Meats have both made large donations of meat, while Marsh Supermarket has also donated items that need to be refrigerated.

“None of that would be open to us if we didn’t have the walk-in, so that’s a huge blessing,” Morales added.

The addition of the commercial kitchen has led to the new feeding program, which provides hot meals weekly from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m. on Wednesdays to community residents.

“We’ve had everything from fajitas to potato soup, we’ve had spaghetti, we’ve had pork chops,” Morales said, noting that the Salvation Army has been serving approximately 60 meals a week for that program.

Another new program is the Choice Pantry program, which begins Monday, May 1, which will offer more food choices to food pantry clients. The program will take place twice a week initially, from 1-3 p.m. on Mondays and 9:30-11:30 a.m. on Thursday’s.

“So, twice a week, you can actually come in and do your own grocery shopping, so to speak,” Morales said, noting that the new program will give clients the ability to choose certain food items, rather than just accept a bag of groceries prepared by the Salvation Army staff.

“That’s a really good thing; they can now get things that they can actually use,” he said, noting that some items likely don’t get used in the traditional pantry program because clients sometimes get food they don’t like. “I think it’s a better service, because they actually eat what they get.”

The new building also provides a special teen room that includes a pool table, a television and game console and a game table, with a ping pong table coming soon. Morales said the room will hopefully be used during the Salvation Army’s after-school program, which operates in conjunction with Portal 220 to provide a safe place for teens after school. The Salvation Army’s program runs until 5 p.m., when Portal 220’s program begins.

Lt. Morales said the completion of the building project has freed up some of his time, which he wants to use for increased community outreach activities, which he feels is an area the Salvation Army needs to expand.

“We’re trying to get our faces known and make people aware of what we offer,” he said.

He noted that the organization recently had an Easter Egg decorating fundraiser organized by local high school student Griffin Waltmire that Morales said brought in more than 120 people, while the Salvation Army handed out doughnuts this past Saturday to people in its Cherry Street neighborhood. Other community outreach events are being planned in the future.

“We thought we would have about 30 kids there, decorating eggs, doing an egg hunt, we had hot dogs out there, we had photos available; we had more than 120 people,” Morales said.

He also noted that the Salvation Army is planning more community outreach events on a monthly basis.

“We definitely want to get out and talk to people in our community,” he added. “It’s important to us to gauge the interest of the people in the community and find out what they think the problems are that we need to address. Who knows about those problems better than the people who are experiencing them?”

“People in leadership don’t always know the problems; we think we do, we’ll assume we do, but we don’t always know the heart of it,” Morales said. “I want to find that heart, I want to find the need, and I want to address the need. That’s the goal of the Salvation Army wherever we are, we want to do something.”

The downside of a new and larger building, he added, is that utilities and other operating costs increase.

To do that, the organization is also working on fundraising activities, including the upcoming LemonAid program that allows local residents to set up lemonade stands from May13 through July to raise funds for the Salvation Army. A kick-off is planned for May 13 where the Salvation Army will provide free lemonade to local residents and register those who would like to set up a lemonade stand. A pool party is also in the works for the end of the LemonAid program, Morales added.

Those interested in helping out can call the Salvation Army at 419.910.9332. Those wanting to donate money can do so either by sending a check to the Salvation Army’s Cincinnati clearing house or locally at the Van Wert office at 120 N. Cherry St.

POSTED: 04/19/17 at 8:27 am. FILED UNDER: News