BLADENSBURG, Ohio (WCMH) – Matt Habash, president and CEO of the Mid-Ohio Food Collective, said it currently serves more than 620,000 people a year with free and healthy food.

He said subsidies from the COVID-19 pandemic ending and the rise in inflation, more people are turning to food pantries across central Ohio and beyond.

The need is great enough that the collective has opened a new market in the eastern Knox County village of Bladensburg.

Surrounded by rolling hills, a few flowers and farm fields, the old school building has been transformed into the Mid-Ohio Market at Center of Hope.

“Everywhere I look, I see the DNA of this community,” said Center of Hope CEO Dawnel Volzke. “Today, every refrigeration unit we have has been donated to us. The tables that you see, we have beautiful woodwork around here, our carpenters, all of the wood tables that hold stuff; our youth groups, carpenters, other, just, volunteers, they decided they wanted to come and learn to build these things, so they did.” 

Those at the market serve people in need from 16 rural counties, saying it just makes sense to be there. It’s why the Mid-Ohio Food Collective was eager to join forces with the Center of Hope.

“This is our first Mid-Ohio Market outside of Franklin County and we couldn’t be more excited because it’s also in a rural part of Knox County, so normally, you’d think about the county seats when you think about the other 19 counties that we serve,” Habash said.

“There’s five counties within a mile, but it’s about a half-hour drive to any retail grocery store operation,” Volzke said.

The Center of Hope will have chaplain services, health and wellness, and soon, they’ll have a locally sourced retail store

“We can not only provide a marketplace for our local farmers, we can open up a farm shop and get affordable food out here,” Volzke said. “We can also accept EBT benefits at that store, give people a place to buy fresh foods.”

“At the end of the day, we’re serving more people than we did at the height of the pandemic, right now,” Habash said.

And with grants from the USDA, Knox County commissioners, and private donations, the staff was able to purchase an electric box truck.

For more information on the Center of Hope, click here.