Nelson Twp. – By its third anniversary, Nelson-Garrettsville Community Cupboard has tripled in size and has operated from three different locations. Despite losing everything in the Buckeye Block fire nearly a year ago, NGCC is still expanding and foresees a return to downtown Garrettsville before it celebrates its next birthday.

Michael and Michele Elias co-founded NGCC after becoming aware of the rural hunger crisis in Portage County through a fundraiser in 2010 sponsored by the Akron-Canton Food Bank. When they established NGCC on February 27, 2012, they operated from a storage area behind Isaac Mills Bakery on Nelson Circle, and provided the first established food pantry for the Garrettsville/Freedom Township/Nelson Township region.

Three Year Statistics for the Nelson Garrettsville Community Cupboard
Three Year Statistics for the Nelson Garrettsville Community Cupboard

By November 2013, NGCC had outgrown that location and had moved to downtown Garrettsville’s Buckeye Block for a larger building, better access and greater visibility. At that point, 502 residents from the James A. Garfield School District had received assistance from the NGCC; 68-80 families in an average month; 80-100 families during the holiday season; 800-1,000 food and sundry items out the door every week.

Unfortunately, NGCC was downtown only four months when fire ripped through the Buckeye Block and destroyed all but one of 13 businesses housed there. NGCC was leveled.

“That night after the fire, we thought we were done for,” Michele recalls. “We figured it would take months to get ourselves up and running again. But the very next day, people were calling to offer their help, neighbors started bringing food to my house; and by the third day, we got two location offers! At that point, the television news outlets got ahold of the story, and we became a symbol — a positive outlet for people to be able to help our community in the aftermath of the fire. We got tons and tons of overwhelming support, which allowed us to re-open two weeks after the fire. Our clients never experienced an interruption in service.”

Greg and Judy Selby gave NGCC the use of their former Cub Shop building at 12157 State Route 88 near Ely Road, and Middlefield Bank offered the former Tom-C-Toys building for NGCC to use as a storage and sorting facility. Nearly a year since NGCC lost everything in Garrettsville’s historic blaze, it endures and thrives in its new location. In fact, it now serves an average of 140 households (400 residents) every month, thanks to its dedicated team of about 20 volunteers. Michele estimates that NGCC distributed a total of 70,343 pounds of food in 2014.

Since January, the NGCC has implemented a couple new programs to better serve its clients. A voucher program has been established with IGA, so clients can go to the grocery store and trade their voucher in for one of three fresh-food options (in addition to dry goods supplied at the food pantry): a loaf of bread, a gallon of milk, or a dozen eggs.

Also, a weekend snack-pack program now provides 20 healthy snacks for 165 eligible students to take home each month. The Eliases hope to expand this program to twice a month in the near future.

NGCC is a Choice Pantry, meaning that each client is given a “Shopping List” and they get to choose which items they want to take that month.  The number of items received depends on the household size.  “There are no pre-packed boxes of food so no client is given something that they really don’t like and won’t eat anyway,” Michele explains.

The NGCC is operated independently, but is a member agency of the Akron-Canton Food Bank, so reports statistics to them every month. Clients may visit the Cupboard once every 30 days. Certain requirements need to be met  in order to receive food, as follows:

• Reside in the James A. Garfield School District.

• Bring photo ID and current proof of residency such as recent rent or utility bill.

• Meet the income guidelines for federal and state food program eligibility.

• Sign and date the Federal Food Eligibility (TFAP) Form during each visit, verifying that income guidelines have been met and food has been received.

The food cupboard is open on Mondays, 3-6pm and Wednesdays, 9am-12 noon. It can be reached at 330-527-2011 or by email at  ngcc305@gmail.com. The Eliases plan for NGCC to have its own website in the next few months. Until then,  people can access their  Facebook page (search Nelson Garrettsville Community Cupboard) to stay updated with current events. New volunteers are always welcome to work at the Cupboard and anyone interested can send an e-mail or Facebook message.

“We can’t thank the community enough for all their support over the past three years,” Michele says. As the Eliases continue to increase NGCC’s positive impact on the community, they seek a return to downtown Garrettsville before the end of the year, to regain the visibility, parking and accessibility they had before the fire. Stay tuned.