FINDLAY — The Flag City Free Store opened in December and offers free food, toiletries and kids clothing to those in need.
The Rev. Kevin Grubinski, senior pastor at LifePoint Community Church in Findlay, had the vision for the store.
“Back in September, we were going through Scripture,” said Grubinski. “We were looking at Isaiah 58:6 to 8 and it talks about feeding the hungry. We were challenging the church to be the church.”
Added Lora Kane, member of LifePoint Community Church and co-manager of the store with Grubinski, “He was looking for a way to reach out to the community, and he realized that a lot of people don’t have enough money to buy food. It kept coming to him that we needed to do something about this.”
Grubinski challenged his congregation to collect one ton of food. The congregation met that challenge, but he took the idea one step further.
“So, we pass out one ton of food. What were we really doing?” he said. “It’s kind of a food pantry on steroids. We wanted people to have a place to shop for food rather than be given a food box. For one thing, it gives them dignity, and it also cuts down on waste if people choose what they want to eat.”
Grubinski asked Kane to help him manage the store because he knew she had an interest in helping the community.
“I saw her heart,” he said. “I knew she gravitated toward that kind of thing, and that it would be a very good fit for her to be a part of that.”
The store is located in their church building.
“Our church is located in an old bowling alley,” Kane said. “We share the space with a medical training facility, but there’s this big, huge room back there that is perfect for what we are doing. It has a big storage area and lots of plastic shelving. There are a couple fridges and a freezer, and there is even a working stove.”
That stove comes in handy because the store workers will sometimes prepare meals so customers can sample different foods they might not otherwise try.
The store, which is open 10 a.m. to noon and 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesdays and also 10 a.m. to noon Saturdays, averages about 90 people a week through its doors.
“That fluctuates,” Kane said. “The other day we had 48 families through and gave away almost 1,200 pounds of food.”
While there have been days that Kane wondered where the food they needed would come from, she said that God has always provided.
“I’m not really stressed because God has provided what we need and usually in abundance,” she said. “Yesterday, I was worried we weren’t going to have enough food, so I put out a plea on Facebook. I ran some errands and when I came back, this engaged couple had brought in bags of food and milk. Things like that happen all the time.”
The store is run primarily by volunteers. They usually have four to five people for each of the three weekly shifts.
“It helps that it is only a two-hour shift,” she said. “It’s not like it’s an all day thing, so it is easier to get volunteers.”
The donations for the Flag City Free Store come primarily from the congregation and friends of the congregation, according to Kane.
“We are trying to acquire some type of corporate sponsorship, as well,” Kane said. “We are seeing some of other churches involved with this as well. For us, churches working together is a big piece. If we come together as the body of Christ in unity, we can accomplish so much more. ... We are seeing a degree of success with this.”
The Flag City Free Store also partners with City Mission, a local ministry that provides shelter and meals to area residents in need.
“We are in constant contact with them and share data with them,” Kane said. “We are serving people not already being served.”
Kane said that the people who come to the Flag City Free Store tend to be different than those that visit the City Mission.
“A lot of the people who come in our doors are those out of work temporarily,” she said. “I’m talking about people who are in short-term need who don’t have many options.”
Both the pastor and Kane were clear that while they want to help people, they do not want to enable them. There are plans to start classes on budgeting, meal planning and other practical skills soon.
While meeting people’s physical needs is one of the main reasons the store was open, Kane said the goal is to also meet deeper needs as well.
“We are able to love on them and build relationships,” she said. “That is what Christ did and we want to follow that example.”