Building a new community pantry with expanded services on the grounds of Merry Day Park received unanimous approval by the Oxford City Council earlier this month.
Council approved the idea of allowing the pantry to be built in the park in a resolution in 2017 but consideration of an expanded mission to include the possibility of other social service agencies being able to use the facility delayed the effort. Pantry leaders came to Council on Tuesday to seek approval of a new resolution which will expand the area of land to be used for the building.
Along with the expanded mission comes a new name, Talawanda Oxford Pantry and Social Services (TOPSS), which board President Lara Osborne said better defines the mission and location.
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City Manager Doug Elliott opened discussion of the resolution by explaining the city would lease 6,000 square feet of the park land for 25 years at $1 per year with a 10-year renewable option.
“If the structure is no longer used by TOPSS, ownership would revert to the city of Oxford or TOPSS would be required to restore the site to its original condition,” Elliott wrote in a staff summary in the Council agenda.
Architect Norm Butt, who is working on the project with the TOPSS board, was at the meeting and said his job was made easy with the project because the board had provided sketches which showed what they wanted.
“I have worked with them to be sure it meets building code requirements,” he said, adding he has been working with Bayer Becker engineers on the plans. “Our job is to take the lead on their vision and how it connects to the community better, retaining the park area there now.”
TOPSS board secretary Ann Fuehrer said they wanted to expand services to not only provide food to clients, but to help meet nutritional needs of those families being served in the Talawanda School District, taking into account education about nutrition issues.
Council member Steve Dana, who is a former member of the board of the Oxford Community Choice Pantry and president, called the plan “forward-looking” and said, “It is very broadly conceived to integrate with social services.”
Council member Edna Southard, also a former pantry board member and president, said the lease of the land for pantry purposes is “a wonderful thing for the city to do.”
She said she was concerned about maintaining the park at that location and questioned the change of the name of the organization.
“People who use Merry Day Park need green space,” Southard said. “The pantry was founded as a choice pantry. People were not just given a box of food. I question the loss of ‘choice.’ ”
Osborne said they hope the pantry will draw people to the park and they have no intention of taking it over but want to integrate the new facility with the use of the park.
The name change, she said, reflects a change in pantry operation models, generally.
“When the pantry was started, the choice part was special kind of pantry. Now it is the industry standard,” she said, adding the non-choice model does not respect client needs, ignoring food-related health issues. “When we started, we were pioneers. Now, it’s the standard. The name TOPSS is specific about what we do and where we do it.”
She said it is important to have the name “Talawanda” in the name to reflect the overall geographical area being served.
Elliott also noted this resolution deals only with the lease of the land for the building, but the pantry board will need to come back with detailed drawings to obtain a conditional use permit from the city for the actual construction.
The resolution was approved on a 7-0 vote.