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Hilliard Food Pantry regrouping after weekend fire destroys warehouse

 A man sweeps in front of a large building that has been damaged by a fire.
Allie Vugrincic
A Hilliard Food Pantry volunteer sweeps up ash and debris Monday outside of the Pantry on Cemetery Road. A Sunday afternoon fire tore through the warehouse and caused damage to the attached pantry and Life Community Church.

A volunteer swept ash and debris Monday morning outside the Hilliard Food Pantry on Cemetery Road. When the wind blew, the smell of smoke wafted across the parking lot.

Hilliard Food Pantry leaders spent much of the day exploring options to get operations started again after a Sunday afternoon fire swept through its warehouse and damaged the adjacent Life Community Church.

Hilliard Food Pantry Board President Kyle Koppenhoefer said that the structural damage was being assessed Monday, but it was clear that the food was a loss.

“Even the food that was not damaged by either the fire itself or the water to put it out has been damaged by smoke. And we can't serve it to the public,” Koppenhoefer said.

The pantry will resume distributing food on Thursday at 6 p.m. in the Life Community Church parking lot. Koppenhoefer suggests families in immediate need visit Mid-Ohio Market on Norton Road.

The fire broke out just before 1 p.m. Sunday. Around 40 firefighters from four fire departments – Norwich Township, Washington Township, Upper Arlington and Columbus – fought the blaze for several hours, said Norwich Township Fire Battalion Chief Chris Grile.

He said no one was hurt and most of the church building was saved, but that it was a difficult fire.

“While yesterday may not have been as hot as some recent days, it's still very difficult for our firefighters to operate for so long and the heavy equipment and gear that they have in this heat,” Grile said.

“Ever since, let's say June of 2020, three years ago, we tripled the number of families that we serve month over month."
- Kyle Koppenhoefer, Hilliard Food Pantry Board President

The pantry serves around 1,300 families a month, said Koppenhoefer. The families come not just from the city, but also the larger Hilliard school district.

Koppenhoefer said those who visit often work, but don’t make enough money to cover all of their expenses, especially with the cost of housing. And need has grown since the pandemic.

“Ever since, let's say June of 2020, three years ago, we tripled the number of families that we serve month over month,” he said.

So, despite the fire, the work continues.

Norwich Township Fire Department – the department that serves Hilliard – is continuing to help by collecting non-perishable foods at all three township fire stations. The fire department is also taking cash or checks made payable to “Hilliard Food Pantry” at the 5181 Northwest Parkway station.

“You know, we try to help all of our community members and all of our businesses, but this is the one that really is special to us,” Grile said.

The Norwich Fire Department has helped collect non-perishables for the pantry for years, Grile said. He called the service the pantry provides “vital” to the community.

Several churches and the city of Hilliard have offered to help the pantry get up and running again, Koppenhoefer said.

“We need to identify what's best for the community we serve and the volunteers that we serve, and decide how we're going to get back up and operating as quickly as possible,” he said.

“There’s so much need for nutritious food in our community that this is almost an essential service."
- Norwhich Township Fire Battalion Chief Chris Grile

Firefighters saved the pantry’s two pallet jacks, and Koppenhoefer expects things like shelving will be fine.

But he estimates the building had $50,000 to $60,000 of equipment in it, including walk-in freezers and commercial refrigerators. It’s not clear yet how much of that is damaged and what will be covered by insurance.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation – and the cleanup remains underway. Norwich Township Fire Department will continue to help as much as possible, said Grile, who asked the community to also help.

“There’s so much need for nutritious food in our community, that this is almost an essential service. So, you know, if you're able to, if you're a community member, a community business, a resident of the Hilliard area or the Northwest side, and you're able to – donations are very much appreciated,” Grile said.

Allie Vugrincic has been a radio reporter at WOSU 89.7 NPR News since March 2023.