City Leases Merry Day Park for New Food Pantry Building

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TOPSS has commissioned architectural plans for a new multi-use building to be built in Merry Day park. Rendering provided by TOPSS

Erin Glynn

The Talawanda Oxford Pantry and Social Services (TOPSS) is partnering with the city of Oxford to construct a new building offering a food pantry and other social services in Merry Day Park.

TOPSS, formally known as the Oxford Community Choice Pantry, was founded in 2007 using a location on the grounds of Mt. Olivet cemetery. The property was leased to the pantry by St. Mary’s Catholic Church.

The idea of having a pantry that functions more like a grocery store was groundbreaking at that time and allowed for the pantry to better meet community needs, as families were able to select the foods that worked best for them and their dietary restrictions. Since then, choice pantries have become the standard, according to TOPSS officials.

TOPSS is ready to be groundbreaking again by integrating the new facility into the Merry Day Park area.

The pantry’s current building in the cemetery is now unusable and scheduled for demolition, but the pantry is prepared. Starting last January, then-president of the TOPSS board, Edna Southard, began discussions with the Oxford Parks and Recreation department to move to a new location inside Merry Day Park.

Location is Close to Clientele

Merry Day Park is conveniently located on College Corner Pike, near the subsidized housing complex in Oxford as well as the Oxford mobile home park. The location is also adjacent to the Family Resource Center and the Ohio Benefits Bank.

“That was important because we serve the same customers,” Ann Fuehrer, secretary of the TOPSS board said. “Many of our customers walk, so it needed to be in walking distance (of their homes).”

Council members were initially concerned about the effect the building could have on the park, which was renovated just last year.

“It’s essential for the people living in that area to have a green space,” said Southard, who is also a city council member. “But (TOPSS) seems prepared to take that into account.”

Council member David Prytherch agreed.

“I know that the architects will work with the city planners to build something that best meets the current needs of the community as well as the current and future needs of the community members using the park,” Prytherch said.

TOPSS will be leasing the Merry Day Park property for $1 a year for 25 years, with 10-year renewable options. The lease agreement was approved at the city council meeting Feb. 5, when members of the TOPSS board updated the council and community on their plans for a 5,600-square-foot facility instead of the original 3,500-square-foot building that had been proposed.

“The city is being very generous,” Southard said. “We are excited about this.”

The floor plan of the new building will improve both the amount and functionality of indoor space. Rendering provided by TOPSS

New Pantry Will Meet Multiple Needs

The pantry currently serves 300 households with an average family size of three people. Its staff includes a part-time director and two part-time staff members, as well as volunteers. Last year some 150 individuals, both Miami students and community members, volunteered at the pantry.

TOPSS is funded through donations from individuals, local churches and student organizations, specifically working with Miami’s Cliff Alexander office, which helps with Greek life philanthropy.  Fundraising has just begun for the construction of the new facility, but the pantry has already received a Community Development Block Grant from Butler County for the project.

In addition to functioning as a food pantry, the new facility will be a “one stop shop” for social services related to food security and nutrition, staffed by volunteers from McCullough-Hyde Hospital and Miami students from the Department of Kinesiology and Health, said Fuehrer.

“Many of the people we served have nutritional issues, like high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes, so we want to do nutrition and cooking classes,” said Fuehrer said.

Planning is also under way for the possibility of adding a soup kitchen, café and community garden, also staffed by volunteers.

The new TOPSS facility is projected to open on June 30, 2020.