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After years of serving meals to thousands of hungry, down-on-their-luck people, the Center of Hope in Ravenna is raising money to move to a larger space -- just down the street.
The need is there, with the center's Christian Cupboard emergency food pantry adding 65 to 70 new clients each month, said Anne Marie Mann-Noble, director of emergency outreach services for Family & Community Services, Inc.
"We are seeing an extreme increase in the working class families" and seniors who have exhausted their savings and other resources, she said. "They don't know where to turn, they've never used our services before," she said.
The Center of Hope is in the middle of a capital campaign to raise at least $370,000 to renovate the former Portage County employment office on West Main Street in Ravenna into a larger, more efficient location for its meals, emergency pantry and education programs. The center's kitchen also prepares meals for a number of people unable to leave their homes.
The capital raising effort got a major boost recently when the Ametek Corporation Foundation committed to a $50,000 donation toward the renovation.
Mark Frisone, F&CS executive director, said they've already raised about $140,000 toward the goal, including $80,00 in a community development block grant through Portage County.
"Ametek has been in the community for more than 75 years and we want to give back to the community," said Tim Michalk of Ametek Corp. In addition to the cash donation, employees volunteer at the Center of Hope and for the holiday food program.
For the past few weeks the former jobs office was busy with volunteers assembling about 860 food boxes and sorting toys, games and clothes for about 1,150 children of families who signed up for the annual holiday help through the Center of Hope and Kent Social services.
This year's numbers are about the same as last, Mann-Noble said. More than a hundred volunteers take part, from students from Ravenna High School, Theodore Roosevelt High in Kent, Fortis College and Kent State University, staff from Northeast Ohio Medical University, volunteers from area churches, off duty county sheriff's deputies, and trustees from the county jail, and local companies.
"We could not have gotten this done without people like J.P. Myers who donates vehicles and manpower. He's been phenomenal," Mann-Noble said.
For the past 17 years the annual effort has been organized by Deanna and Jack Kline, who take care of assembling and distributing the food boxes.
Deanna said she's thrilled to be able to help.
"Seeing the smile on their faces, parents who didn't think they'd have a Christmas for their kids. It's very rewarding," she said.
The old jobs office is owned by Portage County, but the county and city have worked a deal. In exchange for forgiving an old debt of about $250,000 owed by the county to Ravenna, the city will get the old jobs office and property on Cleveland Road formerly occupied by the county engineer's office for economic development.
Ravenna Mayor Joe Bica said the city will deed the jobs office to F&CS through its nonprofit community improvement corporation.
Bica noted social services for low-income and others in need are centered in Ravenna.
Having the Center of Hope in Ravenna "helps out not only Ravenna residents but surrounding communities," Bica said. "It's really about the health and welfare of residents."
Bica said they hope to have the property transferred by February and to start renovations soon after. Renovations will expand the building toward its rear parking lot, add a kitchen, walk-in cooler and freezer and replace the heating and cooling systems.
Currently, the Center of Hope serves hot lunches to about 140 people daily, but can seat only 100 people at a time. It also lacks storage and enough refrigerator and freezer space, Mann-Noble said.
The new Center of Hope will be able to serve many more people more efficiently, Bica said.
Once the switch is made, the old Center of Hope building will be deeded to Ravenna's community improvement corporation. Bica said the goal is to work a deal with the Community Action Agency, located next door, to use the building to expand their operation.
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