Chamber recognizes finalists for nonprofit agency award

By Mackenzi Klemann -

LIMA — Two food pantries and a Christian bicycle collective are this year’s finalists for the Lima/Allen County Chamber of Commerce’s nonprofit of the year award. Here are the finalists:

Churches United Pantries

A group of downtown churches came together in 2001 to form Churches United Pantries, amid concern that many families and individuals were going hungry. The pantry, located at 129 S. Pierce St., now serves an estimated 2,000 Lima families each year, according to CUP Board Director Mary Stepleton.

Twenty percent of CUP’s clients today, Stepleton said, are new families who have fallen on hard times because of the coronavirus pandemic, during which more than 1.2 million Ohioans have applied for unemployment.

Stepleton has seen many other families and individuals who haven’t needed the pantry’s help for years coming back. And the demand hasn’t slowed yet, even though Ohio businesses are starting to reopen.

“The numbers seem to stay pretty steady right now,” she said.

St. Mark’s Resource Center

The Resource Center at St. Mark’s United Methodist Church, a food pantry and free clothing store, was also founded to alleviate poverty in Lima.

“We want to offer a hand up, not a handout,” said Jessie Roark, director of St. Mark’s Resource Center.

Roark was once homeless herself. She recalls standing in food pantry lines to feed her two children, but there were few resources at the time to help Roark get back on her feet. So she founded the Resource Center, hoping to help others achieve the self sufficiency she has since found.

Roark focuses on relationship building, offering cooking classes, job fairs and other services at the Resource Center to connect her clients with resources they need.

“When we know that there’s a program that could benefit our clients,” she said, “we offer it here.”

The Wheelhouse

In March 2017, a cooperative of churches came together to form The Wheelhouse, a Christian bicycle ministry providing transportation to individuals who do not have a driver’s license and who cannot afford to buy a bike on their own.

The program works like this: local churches donate bicycles to The Wheelhouse, which works with social service agencies to identify people who are in desperate need of transportation. Those individuals are then given the opportunity to work with volunteers at The Wheelhouse’s repair shop to refurbish a bicycle to take home.

“They leave with a bike, a helmet and a lock after a couple hours of work,” said Larry Cress, who co-chairs the ministry with his wife, Virginia.

The Wheelhouse’s volunteers provide ongoing maintenance to keep the bicycles in working order, replacing worn out tires and old brakes as needed.

Cress estimates The Wheelhouse has already helped more than 500 clients since the ministry’s founding, averaging about 150 clients per year.

The Lima/Allen County Chamber of Commerce will hold its annual awards gala from 6-8 p.m. Wednesday, June 10, in the Lima Community Church parking lot, 2945 N. Cole St. Tickets are $20 for members and $25 for non-members. Awards and dinner will be served drive-in style.

By Mackenzi Klemann

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