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Soup kitchen in Sandusky faces prospect of shutdown

SANDUSKY - With Christmas approaching, the Rev. Lonnie Walters is counting on the community's generosity to help his church's soup kitchen upgrade its equipment so it meets fire and electrical codes.

Mr. Walters, pastor of Victory Temple, a nondenominational Christian church in Perkins Township, said the Victory Kitchen in downtown Sandusky needs work that could cost up to $1,500, and the kitchen, which runs on donations, doesn't have it.

“A restaurant can up the price of a meal to meet the budget,” he said. “But a free meals program, you don't have anywhere to meet the increase.”

Donations provide food that's served from noon to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday the first three weeks of each month at the kitchen. Donations also pay for a staff of about half a dozen, and the kitchen's monthly gas bill ($188), electric bill ($400 to $600), and mortgage payment ($348), Mr. Walters said. “These things have to be met just to be open,” he said.

The Victory Kitchen has operated out of a downtown building on Hayes Avenue since October, 1991, serving more than 158,000 meals over nine years, the pastor said.

The kitchen's main problem is with the hood for its cooking range. Mr. Walters said the owners of the Cedar Point amusement park helped the soup kitchen solve a crisis in 1992 by donating the hood, which includes a fire-suppression system, and other safety equipment at a cost of more than $11,000.

An inspection last month by ABCO Fire Protection of Sandusky found that the hood was not in compliance with an Underwriters' Laboratory standard adopted in 1995. That standard calls for the electrical outlet under the hood and a fryer to shut down with the rest of the system when a fire occurs. “I called the fire department to see if we could get away with being under a grandfather act, and not do this, and they came and found out we needed emergency lighting and some exit lighting, so the situation got a little bit worse,” Mr. Walters said.

Fire inspection officials could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Tony Duncan, a service inspector for ABCO, said the soup kitchen is inspected twice a year, in May and November, to make sure it meets local and national safety codes. He said he did not have details of the most recent inspection.

“What it all boils down to is, if we're going to fry, it needs to be fixed,” Mr. Walters said. “And we need to be able to use whatever comes here, because we get a lot of fish here” from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

He continued: “We use the surplus. Whatever comes in, that's what we use. If we have to take out the bad part of the pepper and use the rest, that's what we do. We might be serving hot dogs today and roast beef tomorrow.”

This month, the kitchen is open all four weeks, and Mr. Walters said he expects to serve from 300 to 500 meals each week.

In addition, the facility is planning a holiday meal Dec. 22 that will include its annual “shoebox Christmas,” in which boxes of mittens, candy, and other items are given to visiting children.

The pastor said the soup kitchen has received offers of help, and he has faith that the equipment problems can be overcome. Shutting down is not an option, he added.

“We wouldn't be forced to shut down, because God will work with us,” he said. “It is turning out we have a great community when you tell them the truth.”

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