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Crawford County’s largest food pantry will be forced to relocate if county government chooses to use former Talon industrial facility on Arch Street for offices, and the potential for relocation came as news to the food pantry.

The final decision to move ahead with establishing what county officials call a “justice center” in the former Talon Inc. Plant 5 and converting the current Crawford County Courthouse into an administration center has yet to be made. However, Crawford County Commissioner Francis Weiderspahn expects the final missing links — preliminary floor plans and financing for the justice center — to be ready for examination in the near future, in time for the commissioners to make a decision in October.

If the commissioners choose to move forward, work would begin to remove hazardous materials such as asbestos from the site in November or December.

But before any work begins, another decision awaits if the commissioners choose to renovate. “What to do with the food pantry at the Talon building?” was the topic of a brief discussion during the commissioners’ work session this week. Although a few suggestions were made, no answers were forthcoming.

Contacted for comment by the Tribune, news of the discussion came as something as a surprise to Linda Bennett, executive director of Meadville’s Center for Family Services, the organization that operates the Meadville Food Pantry, which also supplies satellite pantries in Titusville, Cambridge Springs, Saegertown, Springboro, Conneaut Lake and Jamestown. “We supply them with food so people don’t have to come to Meadville,” Bennett explained, noting that the Titusville facility makes its own food purchases. “It’s countywide.”

When the county’s purchase of the Talon building was first announced, Bennett recalled, “I stormed the courthouse. I went up to the commissioners (Morris Waid, Jack Preston and Sherman Allen were in office at the time) and said,  ‘What are we going to do?’ ”

At the time, she recalled, she was assured that the food pantry wouldn’t have to leave.

Following a hastily-arranged meeting with Bennett on Wednesday, Weiderspahn had a different take on the situation. If — nothing has been decided yet, he repeatedly stressed — the massive structure becomes the county’s justice center, “There probably won’t be a food pantry at the top of Arch Street,” he said.

Although there is some unoccupied space at Talon that would be a possibility, “since that’s the justice center, that probably wouldn’t be the best place for them,” Weiderspahn explained. “For security reasons, we’re not sure Talon would be the best location.”

As for the immediate future, “We’re trying to help them find a place to relocate, at least for the interim period,” Weiderspahn said. “We realize that they’re on limited funding, so it’s got to be something affordable.” At the current time, the organization pays the county $800 per month in rent.

“We’re going to have to move if they go through with this renovation,” Bennett agreed after the meeting.

However, if it has to happen, it won’t be easy.

Last year, for example, the organization purchased and distributed 131,308 pounds of food — not counting the surplus food received from the federal government for distribution or all the individual and bulk donations the organization receives throughout the year. Following the 4-H and FFA Market Livestock Auction at this year’s Crawford County Fair, for example, a whole pig was donated to the pantry — ground up, distributed into approximately 100 packages and frozen.

In addition to ample storage space, the facility includes a massive walk-in cooler and walk-in freezer. “We can’t move those,” Bennett said.

At the present time, between 1,200 and 1,300 boxes are distributed each month from the Meadville pantry, which is open on Mondays and Thursdays between the hours of 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 3 p.m.

Mary Spicer can be reached at 724-6370 or by e-mail at mspicer@meadvilletribune.com.

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