Sunday, November 8, 2009

Rachael Ray provides 'ray of hope'


By Amber Ellis • • November 7, 2009
WILMINGTON - Take a look anywhere in this small Clinton County city, and the economic devastation is inescapable.

There's the 15 percent unemployment rate, a housing market that's reached new lows and lines at food pantries, filled with people who never thought they'd have to ask for help.

It's a painful time as the city struggles to attract businesses to fill the huge void left when DHL Express and other Wilmington Air Park operations closed this summer, eliminating thousands of jobs. This is a place where if residents are lucky enough to have a job, they know at least a half dozen other people who've lost theirs.

That story struck a chord with Rachael Ray, the Emmy-winning television host known for her spirited cooking show. She heard about the troubles that followed after the city's largest employer left and she wanted to provide a "ray of hope."

On Saturday, her crew, along with singer and Cincinnati native Nick Lachey, unveiled a complete makeover for a local soup kitchen, including new appliances, furniture and shelves.

"This town has been devastated," Ray said, of the city that also was entertained by Jay Leno at free shows he hosted this spring. "We want to do something for them that will last much longer than one meal, one day."

The show also promised to stock the pantry shelves for the next year - a much-needed boost for a place that is seeing as much traffic in one day as it did in a week a year ago.

"We've been praying for this for a long, long time," said Allen Willoughby, director of Sugartree Ministries and the newly revamped Our Father's Kitchen.

Before this week, he had no idea how his staff would feed the people who streamed through the doors asking for help. Sometimes, recalled one Sugartree board member, they'd pray over empty shelves and hope for the best.

"This is like a dream come true, it really is. We had no idea where our next meal would come from," said Lori Holcomb.

About 300 guests circled through the new space Saturday, picking up bags filled with food or goodies from Sara Lee. They feasted on a cheesy potato casserole, green beans with red peppers and either ham or roast beef - after Ray made sure the food her taste test.
he group took home apple pies and turkey. Many said they planned to return today for a Thanksgiving feast and activities designed to help them find jobs.

Tonya Pringle, a single mother of five, was among the hundreds who showed up at the soup kitchen Saturday.

The Wilmington resident left her job as a manager at Frisch's to start work at DHL. A week later, she learned she'd soon be out of a job.

Her unemployment check supports her children, who range in age from 9 to 19. But $149 per week, after taxes, only goes so far.

"It just feels like we're going into a depression. Nobody is hiring. Nobody, not even the restaurants," said Pringle, who is taking classes at a local college.

Still, she says, they'll get through it.

"We're not worried about it. We can't," Pringle said. "This is a tough city. We are a strong family. We'll survive."

The hope, Lachey said, is that the efforts in Wilmington will spread to other areas in need.

"This is one community out of a multitude across the country that needs help," Lachey said, "and what I'm hoping is that this raises awareness about hunger and pushes people to go out in their own communities, help out."