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Some Columbus Food Pantries Will Close Stores And Move Entirely Online

Debbie Holmes
Edward Arnholt depends on a South Side pantry for food. It's one of several in Central Ohio that will move to online-only ordering.

Fifty-six-year-old Edward Arnholt would not be able to keep food on the table without help from the Champion Avenue pantry on Columbus’ South Side.

“I’m eating better. It's better food, if you come in and get the produce,” Arnholt says. “The produce is fresh, usually. You don’t get stuff like that unless you outright buy it. And I don’t get that many food stamps a month. It helps me out a lot in the long run.”

In April though, the pantry will close. Lutheran Social Services plans to shut down all five of its brick and mortar food pantries in Central Ohio.

Instead, clients will order by smartphone or computer, with the goal of saving money and providing more food to clients. Clients without a smartphone or access to a computer can call 1-877-LSS-MEAL to order food.

"Not only will people be able to order online instead of actually coming to the food pantry, but they'll also be able to come to local rec centers to pick up their food,” says Jennifer Hamilton, an LLS spokesperson.

Seven recreation centers - including three on the South Side, three on the West Side, and one in Linden - will open once a week for food distribution.

Credit Debbie Holmes / WOSU
An online-only food pantry ordering system may be the first of its kind in the country.

Hamilton says this digital distribution system is the first of its kind operated by a food pantry in the state, and maybe the entire country.

"We will be able to devote more money to purchasing food and helping as many families as possible with getting a nutritious source of groceries,” Hamilton says.

The LSS Westside Pantry, which closes Friday, served about 8,500 households last year. The pantry already began taking digital orders on Monday. Once orders come in, the agency will deliver food to one of the recreation centers, and clients will be able to select their own vegetables, fruits, meats and dairy.

LLS also will have a food delivery location in Delaware, Lancaster and Caldwell.

Arnholt, who will be able to keep his part-time job with LLS under the online order pantry system, says he and others who use the pantry are grateful.

“It’s hard to buy $27 worth of food and make it last all month,” Arnholt chuckles.

Debbie Holmes has worked at WOSU News since 2009. She has hosted All Things Considered, since May 2021. Prior to that she was the host of Morning Edition and a reporter.