Nordonia Hills -- Even before the Emergency Assistance Center reopened at the beginning of February, its new location in Northfield Center was evaluated as being in "full compliance" with regulations required for membership as an agency working with the Akron-Canton Regional Food Bank.
"We are so happy and elated that we could receive such a high distinction from the food bank," said EAC Executive Director Joyce Hunt.
The EAC is at 9199 Olde Eight Road, directly across from the St. Barnabas Church entrance. A grand opening is planned for March 2, with a ceremony, including a ribbon cutting, beginning at 10 a.m. and tours running from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. State Rep. Kristina Roegner (R-37) is a scheduled guest speaker.
The agency provides temporary assistance to individuals and families in need who have experienced such situations as a job loss, death of a family member who provided support, or a medical emergency. Help includes food, household and personal hygiene items, clothing, as well as nutritional advice and referrals to other agencies. Also provided are special meals at Easter and Thanksgiving, with an adopt-a-family program at Christmas, which includes a collection of new gifts for children within the program.
The EAC announced last October that it had signed a three-year lease for the new location, citing a need for new space as one reason. The new facility has about 2,600 square feet, up from about 1,600 square feet in its former home in Northfield Village's Summit Plaza.
And with the need for assistance increasing, said Hunt, the added space is vital.
Since at least last summer, Hunt reports the number of people being served has risen each month. In December, that last month for which numbers were available before the EAC closed in January for its move, the EAC reported helping 669 individuals in 251 households, including 229 children and 107 seniors.
The previous record, set in November, was 546 individuals in 182 households.
Hunt said Feb. 20 that she believes February will rival December's figures.
Another reason is that the township facility is more visible than the village site, which was in a hallway, in a corner of the plaza. Hunt said the new location makes it easier for both donors and new clients to find.
"Being more visible has definitely helped," said Hunt, adding the location has also made it easier to recruit volunteers, whose numbers have more than doubled to 21 since the move.
"We have a lot more interest from people to come out and make a difference," she said.
Hunt said even more volunteers would be helpful, especially since the EAC has also changed the way it serves clients. Prior to the move, staff would pack food, trying to vary it and touching on all the food groups, but there was always a degree of randomness to it. The food allotments would then be handed to the clients.
A food bank inspector suggested the pantry begin to operate as a "choice pantry," with a volunteer typically spending 20 to 30 minutes accompanying each client around as the client selects food.
"[The inspector] said it empowers them if they can make their own choices," said Hunt. "The people absolutely love it."
Hunt said that this makes coming to the EAC more like a trip to the grocery store and this, along with the new site's cheerier atmosphere when compared to the former windowless space, helps lift the mood of clients.
"They're in shock. It looks so much nicer and friendlier," said Hunt.
Hunt said one elderly woman, who had been especially depressed when visiting the village location, sat down quietly the first time she came into the new site.
Hunt asked the woman if she was OK.
"She said, 'I just can't get over how nice it is here,'" said Hunt.
"More people have gotten laid off or just need help due to circumstances," said Hunt. "We just want to give them back respect and dignity."
The Emergency Assistance Center is open Mondays to Fridays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, go to www.teacenter.org or call 330-467-7945.