A new shelter and food-pantry system highlights Lutheran Social Services' bold approach to community welfare.

The Columbus Police Department receives about 100 calls a day related to domestic violence and abuse. Police Chief Kim Jacobs says this issue leads to more arrests on a daily basis than any other, and the number of victims needing shelter at Franklin County's only domestic violence shelter often exceeds capacity. In March, construction began on a larger facility that will bring many needed services under one roof and provide a better source of respite for these victims.

The shelter, Lutheran Social Services CHOICES for Victims of Domestic Violence, will open a new facility in December thanks to a capital campaign that raised $15.3 million with plans for another $3 million by the end of the year. LSS spearheaded this building project, as well as a move to a new online system for food pantry distribution, as innovative ways to pursue its mission of providing food, shelter, safety and healing to people in central Ohio and throughout the state.

“We're playing more offense and being the change maker,” says the Rev. Larry Crowell, LSS president and CEO. Crowell, an ordained episcopal priest with 30 years of experience in hospital administration, stepped into his leadership role with LSS in 2011.

“The building is a response to a facility that is woefully outdated and undersized,” Crowell says. The new shelter will increase the number of beds from 51 to 120 and is “designed with dignity in mind.”

Offering a more residential feel—without communal bunking or bathing areas—the new shelter aims to be a one-stop resource with office space for visiting counselors and legal advocates and other professionals.

Crowell credits strong support from local government officials and the philanthropic community in Columbus as major elements of the capital campaign's success, with corporate donations and government support comprising a large portion of the campaign. He also sees the new building as an important step forward for the partnership between the shelter and Columbus police. As part of the Lethality Assessment Program, implemented in Franklin County in 2015, officers can take victims to the CHOICES shelter rather than just leave a phone number.

“We have the opportunity to deal not only with the immediate issue, but we can pass the baton to another agency [that] is willing to take it from there—with CHOICES being the next step,” says Police Chief Jacobs. She describes LSS and the shelter as a “great example of community policing”—a nonprofit working to keep the community safe rather than relying solely on a government agency.

LSS' commitment to being a change maker also extends to its food pantry system—the largest food pantry system in Ohio. LSS is rolling out a new online system to become the first food pantry in the state to close all storefronts and replace them with an online ordering system and neighborhood-based pickup points.

“Looking at the cost structure, technology, the curve of where people in poverty are in terms of using technology, and the city, we felt now was the time to launch into it,” Crowell says.

The new model brings the online ordering concepts used by companies such as Kroger and Amazon into the food pantry system. Shoppers place orders online and choose a pickup site.

Community centers owned and operated by the city will serve as distribution centers, which Crowell sees as a great way to bring local residents to these centers and share resources. “My hat goes off to the city for agreeing to partner with us,” Crowell says, noting that these sites also offer more flexibility. “We're not stuck in the mud by having those fixed storefronts, but we're able to move to where the demand is or is emerging.”

LSS Board Chair Ron Kerr, vice president of sales delivery with Nationwide Insurance, says the new shelter and food pantry continue a long history of forward-looking practices at LSS. “We're exploring best practices in other communities and putting them into Columbus,” Kerr says. “The sign of a learning and continually-improving organization is an ongoing, relentless focus on doing its work in new and better ways.”

Mary Sterenberg is a freelance writer.