EATON — Preble County Commissioners met on Monday, Feb. 1, with Jenny McCarty, Executive Director of the Common Good, regarding a needed easement for construction of a ramp and second entrance for the Once Around Shop, which also houses the local food pantry.
Attending with McCarty were Common Good Board Member Rudy Roth and contractor Chris Miley.
“I am going to do a little history for you to backtrack, just so that we’re all on the same page,” McCarty said. “The Once Around Shop has been serving Preble County out of the building at 113 South Cherry Street since 1984. It’s always had a food pantry there, and it’s been a thrift store. Historically, when a customer comes in for the thrift store, they come in the front door; a food pantry person comes in the front door as well. That’s always been the way it has been and I’ll be honest, I haven’t always liked it because what happens is, if I’m in there shopping to find a blouse or dress, and my neighbor comes in, I see them go into the office and they’re carrying out food. I just now realized they’re getting food and that’s a confidentiality issue.”
When the pandemic occurred the thrift store was shut down, and the pantry began giving food out the warehouse door, which is located in the alley beside the facility.
“But as winter approached, we realized that that was not sustainable,” McCarty explained. “When the store opened back up, we realized because of numbers and the size of the store, we couldn’t do both again. It is not uncommon on a given food pantry day, in a two-hour period, that we serve anywhere from seven families to 20 families,” she added. “So you add that in with the customers and you’ve got too many people in a very small space.”
Many of the Common Good’s volunteers are in the at-risk category for COVID-19 and are a little “skittish” about working anyway, McCarty said.
“Bringing the food pantry back inside would be too many people in the building.”
McCarty said on the south side of the building a door which has been bricked over can be seen. “When we started investigating, it’s actually the exact same square footage in the building as where I have my food pantry, so it’d be a nice swap. Chris [Miley] and I spoke and decided, maybe if we open that up because of the height and the ground level, we’d have to have a ramp. And because of the way the ADA does ramps, we’d have to have several switchbacks. In surveying the ground, we realized, and I kind of knew before we had a real survey, that the Common Good owns the building, and not much ground around it.”
Having the new door for entrance to the food pantry will be better even after the pandemic is over, McCarty said.
“This is going to be a better way to serve our people.
“We serve about 150 families a month, for about 400 people,” she said. “That’s a lot of people, and that’s some dignity that we can give them by having a separate entrance — and it also gets us through the pandemic at this time.”
The Common Good is seeking an easement because the county owns the land and the easement would allow them to use the land to put the ramp on, allowing the nonprofit to reopen the closed doorway and create a separate entrance for the food pantry.
Commissioner Rachael Vonderhaar questioned if there would be any language in the easement regarding what would happen should the food pantry “switch hands.”
“I don’t foresee it happening,” McCarty said. “I really don’t. I mean, it’s been there since ‘84. It’s a free building. We got it free. It’s a good location. What we discussed before was that the easement would be revisited. It is going to be a metal ramp, it’s not going to be a cement ramp or wooden ramp, so that if down the road the building was sold, the ramp could be removed, and the ground be restored.”
Miley estimated the easement to be between 25-30 feet wide.
Vonderhaar said she would like for the board to discuss with Prosecutor Marty Votel the language of the easement.
Commissioner Adam Craft said he had proposed seeing if the City of Eaton would rezone the county’s property in question, so the board could put it out for bid and let the Common Good purchase it, removing the county from the mix.
“I think what we’re saying is we have a couple conversations we would like to have, one with the City of Eaton, and one with the prosecutor,” Vonderhaar said.
McCarty said the Common Good had initially discussed using CARES Act money for the ramp, “because it truly is a COVID-related thing. I was told that CARES money cannot be used for nonprofit organizations. I wasn’t quite sure why that was since in other counties that’s been used for nonprofits.”
“That’s a discussion, we will have later today, for how the newest dollars will be utilized,” Vonderhaar said.
The project, without having to purchase land, is already a $52,000 project, according to McCarty.
“That’s another stretch depending on how much that land would be.
“If we can look at this as a big picture, I’d appreciate it, and see what we can do there that’d be great,” she added. “But I do think overall, it’d be serving our people well by doing this.”
“I think for us, we’re looking for the best way to serve our county and how we come together and utilize what is available to us to solve the problem,” Vonderhaar said, noting a discussion with Votel would help the board make the best decision on how to move forward.
Reach Eddie Mowen Jr. at 937-683-4061 or follow on Twitter @emowenjr