RAVENNA: For more than 20 years, Center of Hope has dispensed the virtue it is named for to the elderly and the indigent.
At 1034 W. Main St., the site of a former florist, Center of Hope serves hot meals daily, hands out bags of groceries, offers a gathering place for those in need of companionship and collects holiday gifts for distribution.
But in recent years, the clientele has grown to include people who have not traditionally sought such help.
“There are more working-class folks coming in,” said Anne Marie Noble, director of emergency outreach services for Family & Community Services, the private nonprofit that operates the center. More than 70 new clients are being added every month.
Now the center is in the middle of a campaign to raise $300,000 to prepare a new home.
A recent deal gave Portage County’s old One-Stop building — across the street from the center — to the city of Ravenna, which is leasing it to the Center of Hope for $1 a month.
The building’s current usability is limited, because it has no kitchen. The fundraising effort seeks to rectify that issue.
About $140,000 already has been raised, including a $50,000 gift from the Ametek Foundation and an $80,000 community block grant from Ravenna that must be matched. Another $10,000 has been contributed by members of the fundraising committee.
Other efforts include Haasz Automall’s promise to donate up to $1,500 by dedicating a portion of car sales in December, and a $1,600 check from the local Moose Lodge made from a car show and bake sale.
Currently, the center’s clients do a good job of rotating themselves in the existing building, Noble said. Volunteers serve up to 150 meals a day in a room that only seats 100, so some clients know to show up later.
Volunteers make the best of a cramped kitchen, where they prepare another 60 to 80 meals a day for people who cannot be transported to the center.
Until food services can be moved to the new building, the center is making use of its future home in other ways. This month, it will be the staging area for 1,000 holiday food boxes.
In 2011, the center served 49,000 hot meals and handed out 12,678 bags of groceries.
More frequently, the food is going to parents whose work hours or salaries have been cut, laid-off breadwinners who have gone through their savings and 401(k) funds, and families that have moved in with relatives after losing their homes.
For those falling below the poverty line, food stamps provide $4.62 per person, Noble said. The center figures the cost of three meals a day is $7.11, so many people turn to the center to bridge the gap.
“There are a lot of people finding it hard to make ends meet,” Noble said.
Center of Hope serves hot meals each weekday and gets assistance from Kent State University for some weekend offerings. Because the school began requiring community service of graduates, it transports students to serve three Saturday breakfasts a month.
KSU’s longtime Campus Kitchen Project also provides and serves a hot meal at the center one Sunday each month.
“We are fortunate to benefit from that,” Noble said.
Assisting are about 40 regular community volunteers and 100 or so occasional helpers. They range from husband/wife teams to high school students and scouts.
Some are retirees, like Fred Moorehead, who was dishing out sausage, biscuits, vegetable soup, sundaes and slices of pie for a recent meal.
Moorehead was looking for somewhere to volunteer three months ago when he stopped at the center and asked if they needed help.
“It makes me feel good to give back,” said Moorehead, a ringer for Santa who will put his white beard to use this month at the center’s Breakfast with Santa event.
Center of Hope always needs more volunteers, Noble said.
The center is seeking people available to work four-hour shifts during any of the meals, including folks with cars who can pick up prepared food donations made daily by area restaurants.
While the center purchases most of the groceries passed out to registered clients from the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank, all of the food used in the hot meals is donated.
“We can’t do what we do without the community,” Noble said.
About 26 percent of the agency’s budget comes from United Way; the rest is made up from private donations.
The center has two paid staff members and shares a $269,000 annual budget with Kent Social Services.
The Kent center, also under the Family & Community Services umbrella, serves the city of Kent, Franklin Township and Western Brady Lake.
Center of Hope serves residents of Ravenna, the townships of Ravenna, Charlestown, Edinburg, Palmyra, Atwater, Deerfield, Rootstown and Paris and a portion of Newton Falls within Portage County’s border.
Portage County Commissioner Tommie Jo Marsilio said she’s glad commissioners worked out a deal for the center to get their old building.
“I think they are great people doing great things,” she said. “And they are very efficient. Nothing goes to waste there.”
To donate or volunteer, call Center of Hope at 330-297-5454.