BELLVILLE — Christmas came early for the Bellville Neighborhood Outreach Center which works to help families in need. Matt Merendino, the center’s board president, said the $11,157.52 donation to the food and clothing pantry Tuesday will go a long way to help families in Bellville, Butler and the Clear Fork Valley.

LECET, or Laborers Employers Cooperation Education Trust, the Ohio Laborers Union and Ohio Contractors Association donated the money and an oversized check to the Bellville Neighborhood Outreach Center. Money was raised from a golf outing in July at Deer Ridge Golf Course. 

Bethany Billi, executive director of LECEF, said the golf outing raised over $82,000. “We, with the Ohio Contractors Association, partnered and have done a charity golf outing for two years now,” she said.

Keeping the money in the community

Billi said last year the donation was made to the Catalyst Outreach Drug Rehabilitation Center. “We like to keep the money in the community of where our golf outing is,” she said. “LECEF has 23 Locals throughout Ohio and Mansfield is one of our Locals.”

Three charities benefit from the 100% charity golf outing: Laborers Care (for laborers’ family members killed on the job), the Ohio Contractors Association chooses the Ronald McDonald House in Columbus, and the Bellville Neighborhood Outreach Center this year, Billi said.

Merendino said the outreach center has operated at the site for about 12 years, and prior to that operated out of a church. New and gently used clothing is donated and sold for $4 a bag with all money going back into the nonprofit organization’s feeding program.

“We’re exploring opportunities for another site,” Merendino said as he provided a tour to visitors. The organization has outgrown the current location, which has many rooms and was once used as a physician’s office, hardware store and more.” “We’d like to do an after-school feeding program,” said Merendino, who is also youth pastor of Clear Fork Alliance Church on Ohio 97 near the Clear Fork High School.

Food unloaded three days a week from box truck 

The site is busy. A 16-foot box truck full of food is unloaded Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at the rear of the building. Food is picked up from two local Walmart stores and Sam’s Club and the outreach center is supported by the Cleveland Food Bank, Feeding America and Meijer. The pantry is a free market pantry and people can shop for themselves versus being provided a bag of food.

The Bellville Neighborhood Outreach Center actively supports the residents of Clear Fork Valley (southern Richland County), which encompasses 110 square miles. The service area is defined as the Clear Fork School District, which includes Bellville, Butler, and outlying communities. To receive food, a resident is asked to bring a utility bill.

“We will give anyone food. But we’re trying to be local,” he said. Merendino said 300 people, or about 100 to 120 families, are served each year by the outreach center. He said the biggest needs are cash donations as the agency can turn a $1 donation into a $7 donation with its affiliation with the Cleveland Food Bank.

Volunteers staff the pantries and sort food 

He said diapers, personal care items and canned fruits are always needed. The center is open Mondays through Saturdays. Volunteers staff the pantries, the sorting areas and more, including a room earmarked for school students who may need a bag of food to take home. Currently the agency is providing food bags for 66 students who are on free and reduced lunch plans.He said a lot of times, people don’t realize there is a deep need to assist families with food in the Clear Fork Valley. “A lot of time it is the kids who have that need at home,” Merendino said.

To contact the outreach center, call 419-886-8395.