HAMILTON, OH (FOX19) - Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones is calling on the community to step up and donate money to help keep a financial struggling soup kitchen open.
He recently gave New Life Mission on Henry Street in Hamilton a $3,000 donation from his re-election campaign fund, Friends of Richard Jones.
Other donations from businesses, churches and individuals pulled in another $13,000 to $14,000 in the last few weeks.
But more is needed so New Life can continue operating next year, so the sheriff made a lunchtime visit Tuesday and went before our cameras to make a public appeal.
"Everybody's got to come and have some place to get a hot meal. I need people to send money and to organize," Jones said. "We need to keep these shelters open, especially this shelter."
Jones got involved after FOX19 NOW reported earlier this month the charity would have to shutter its doors by year's end unless it secures another corporate sponsor to supplement a fourth of their annual $140,000 budget.
New Life's former corporate sponsor has withdrawn over a change in priorities, leaving the non-profit with a $4,000 to $6,000 monthly shortfall.
As a result, Director Felix Russo said they have been getting by week-to-week.
New Life was in danger of closing this week unless Russo scraped together the cash to pay a large utility bill due Thursday.
After hearing about the soup kitchen's troubles from FOX19 NOW, the sheriff visited New Life Mission on Nov. 20.
He said he was so impressed at how many meals they served in such a clean kitchen daily, he wanted to give them money.
It's especially important to keep New Life Mission open now, the sheriff points out, after St. Rafael family homeless shelter shut down in Hamilton earlier this year. It had 40 beds and eight apartments.
Its owner, Mercy Health, said at the time they decided to solely focus on health care for needy people. Mercy Health unsuccessfully tried to find another entity to take over the shelter before the doors shuttered.
Meanwhile, New Life continues to serve 35,000 to 40,000 hot meals annually.
So far this year, they have doled out 36,000 meals and groceries to 12,000 people.
They help in other ways as well with helping the needy get access to vaccines, free clothing, eye exams, eyeglasses and drug and alcohol addiction support.
The charity also has a community garden on its property.
They grow tomatoes, eggplants and other fresh vegetables used in cooking on site.
Residents are welcome to come and pick what they need, Russo said.
No one is immune to poverty and homelessness, the sheriff said, recalling his own childhood experiences.
His parents both worked, including his father, who also was in law enforcement.
But, like many families, they still found themselves struggling to make ends meet at times.
Jones said he learned how to rig their toilet to make it flush when the power in their house was cut off because of an overdue bill.
And more than once, his mother sent him to the door to handle bill collectors when they came calling.
The sheriff carried those life experiences with him and has a soft spot in his heart for the homeless today.
He routinely opens the sheriff's office lobby to provide them with a safe haven during winter's coldest month.
"Sometimes we forget where we come from, but we need to keep this shelter open," Jones said. "I've been in their kitchen. It's one of the cleanest ones I've ever seen. I've been in restaurants that aren't as clean as this. I'm very impressed.
"People come in, they are very orderly. The food looks good. Everybody's happy. You can see it. They were laughing - and I'm the police!"
New Life is located at 415 Henry St., directly across South 4th Street from Symmes Park Playground.
The facility is open Monday-Thursday 10:00 a.m. to 2:15 p.m.
Saturday lunch is served 12:00 p.m. to 1:30 p.m.
A meal also is provided after Sunday Worship Service, which starts at 5:00 p.m.
Donations can be mailed to: New Life Mission: PO Box 68, Hamilton Ohio 45012.
Or, call Russo at 513-313-2312, or visit their website: www.missionhamilton.org