Local woman operates free food pantry in driveway to help those in need

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LORAIN, Ohio (WJW) — Jessica Santiago tripped and fell recently in the very driveway she has turned into a free pantry.

“To me, sitting down and being stuck on crutches right now is really upsetting,” said Santiago.

The site at her Lorain home in the 1700 block of Washington Avenue has been up since last summer. 

“I have people that will drive here 45 minutes cuz they need something,” she said. “We’ve seen 250 people just this week. That’s a lot it’s so sad.”

When COVID-19 took hold in March, she looked for a way to give back to the community she’s called home for the past two years after moving from out of state.

“Originally making muffins for people since the pandemic started. I wanted to help people and I wanted to figure out somehow of doing it,” she told FOX 8.

That small gesture of kindness grew when Santiago was featured in the newspaper and donations started pouring in, including the tent she operates under.

“Everybody’s been so helpful. I got Panera Bread donating,” she added.

Another big source of donations has been the Greater St. Matthew AME Church on West 24th Street. 

“I’ll get pastries, like three pallets of pastries, and they’ll be gone within 2 days,” said Santiago.

The church has its own drive-thru food panty that serves roughly 500 households a month.

“She’s a blessing in the fact that she reaches people that we normally don’t reach through our sign up program,” said church member Michael Arberthar.

The church also delivers food when they can to help Santiago serve breakfast on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m., though this weekend she won’t be able to because of the cold temperatures. 

“Sometimes I have extra eggs I give to her, potatoes, onions, whatever I have leftover I give to her to keep it from going in the trash because I know someone can use it,” said Henry Johnson, who helps run the church’s food pantry.

Open every day from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Santiago says the number of people she sees in need keeps growing.

“I have nurses. I have some people that lost their jobs because of this pandemic, places are closed, or they’ve lost their job because they only can let so many people back,” Santiago explained.

She hopes to keep growing. 

“My biggest goal is to be able to have a brick-and-mortar building,” she said.

But for now, Santiago keeps the tent stocked in the cold weather and on crutches, ready for whoever shows up.

“They cry and thank me, and it feels good knowing that I got to help one family at a time,” she added.

Santiago posts every day what she has available on the Lorain, Ohio Facebook Page. She welcomes donations and anyone in need.

You can also make a donation here.

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