WILLOUGHBY, Ohio (WJW) — We are now firmly into 2020 and the holidays now seem like a distant memory, but an outreach center in Lake County says they're working to make it feel like Christmas all the time for those in need.
McKinley Outreach Center is located in the former McKinley Elementary School on Lost Nation Rd. in Willoughby.
Pastor Michael Currier helped form the faith-based nonprofit which he says serves thousands of people from western Lake County every year.
"We have five populations. We have the unemployed. We have the working poor — what we call the underemployed. We serve the mentally and physically challenged. We serve those who are veterans who are struggling and we serve the elderly at fixed incomes who increasingly are struggling more," Pastor Currier said.
"I try to make it every Tuesday in the month,” said Betty Otey, a guest at the center.
"We're in a situation where we can't you know afford to go out and buy a lot of things, especially new things,” explained another guest, Dale Robakowski.
Hundreds of families flock to McKinley throughout the month for distribution days.
"We actually call our volunteers 'servants' and we call the people that come here 'guests,'” said Currier.
The organization provides everything from clothing and pet food to books, shoes and medical supplies. All items are organized and handled with care.
"It's like going to the mall. It's like one-stop shopping. You get everything right here,” said Robakowski.
"I've got a lot of household products, cleaning products and essentials that you need every month,” Linda Gilani, a guest, showed us while wheeling around her cart.
"It meant a lot to me. Especially toiletries. Not all of the time that you can always afford the toiletries so I look forward to that,” Otey said.
"One of our most important rooms are our taxable items room because a lot of people don't realize when people get food stamps or food assistance, it does not pay for things like toilet paper, paper towels and, you know, laundry detergent and things like that,” explained Currier.
Dale Harig merged his food pantry with McKinley. He says they were able to give out enough food for 58,000 meals in 2018.
"I just love it. I can't express it, really it's been great for me as far as just helping people. That's the bottom line for me to be able to help people."
The organization also provides guests with opportunities to maintain their health by having a certified RN on-site. They also offer a safe place for kids to wait while adults gather items.
"An essential part of my faith is not just what I keep in my heart, but how I express it in serving the needs of people around me,” said Currier.
At McKinley, it’s about more than fulfilling physical needs.
"People come in here pretty broken — in different situations and different backgrounds, but when they come in here we do whatever we can to help them,” said servant Kristen Sasala.
"This has gone around by word of mouth and it's slowly grown every year. The need is unbelievable,” said servant Terry Menn.
"All's you gotta do is lay aside your pride. You know pride keeps a lot of people away,” encouraged Otey.
There is no judgment at McKinley, just a sense of family and a commitment to the community every day of the year.
"Christmas is over, the holidays are over, but the needs of people remain. We are here to serve them. We've been here for seven years and God willing we'll be here for a lot more years,” Currier said.
Distribution days take place on the second Saturday, third Tuesday and last Saturday of each month.