When St. Francis Sharing and Caring Inc. was looking for land to expand its facilities, the all-volunteer organization found what it needed in its back yard.

Sharing and Caring, whose members include the congregations of 15 churches in Conemaugh Township, Somerset County, operates a food pantry in Hollsopple and a used-clothing store on Woodstown Highway between Hollsopple and Davidsville.

Those two ventures will join when Sharing and Caring builds a larger facility on land located within sight of its clothing shop.

“We looked at other places outside Davidsville for an overview, not wanting to spend a lot, but there were conditions to meet with sewage and so forth,” said Eldon Stahl of Davidsville, president of St. Francis Sharing and Caring Inc.

“We tried another angle and found property closer to Davidsville. It’s below our barn, where we have the clothing shop, and all the utilities are there.”

The land is worth $71,000 an acre, the amount Sharing and Caring has for such purposes.

Stahl is in the process of settling a bank loan for the building.

The owners of the land, who also rent the barn to Sharing and Caring for $750 a month, have agreed to return 10 percent of the land’s value, making the final payment less.

Sharing and Caring has embarked on a fund-raising campaign for its new building, which will come from a factory in Tennessee.

A total of 5,000 letters have been sent to seven ZIP codes, and Stahl hopes to raise $100,000 by spring.

In addition to clothing and food, the new facility will offer furniture and appliances.

The organization currently offers counseling services and financial assistance to pay utility bills.

“We never give cash,” Stahl said. “We pay the bill, and we don’t like when there is a delay in getting service because they need the check first.”

When Sharing and Caring can’t help someone, the person is referred to other agencies.

Sharing and Caring had its start in 1983 when concerned church members saw there was a gap between help received by needy residents and help that was needed.

Its 15-member churches have a representative on the general board, donate money and grocery items and have an automatic vote.

“We’re an extension of the church in Conemaugh Township, but we have to know where the trouble is,” said Stahl, who is a member of Bethel United Methodist Church in Hollsopple. “We’re supposed to help the community. People give to meet the need.”

St. Francis Sharing and Caring Inc. was chartered on July 18, 1991.

Through its food pantry, clothing store and other assistance, Sharing and Caring helps more than 100 families.

When Stahl, who is 81, was asked to take over as president of St. Francis Sharing and Caring Inc. in January, he didn’t want to take the post unless the organization was going to make improvements.

Stahl worked to set up Laurel View Village in Davidsville and served as its chairman from 1991 to 1998.

“I knew we needed a better facility for our volunteers, who are mostly seniors and work 51?2 days a week from 8:30 to 3,” Stahl said. “They don’t have room to display all that has been donated.”

After a meeting of the executive board, Stahl received approval for a move forward to get the combined facility up and running.

The present food pantry is located in a former bank in Hollsopple, dating back 100 years.

“It’s open four times a month, but each family comes once a month,” Stahl said.

Dry goods are in front and freezers are in the back in the 500-square-foot structure.

The new food pantry, which will be located in the front of the new facility, will increase in size to 4,000 square feet.

After being chartered, Sharing and Caring received grants for government surplus.

“We furnish turkeys for Thanksgiving and Christmas and give a $25 food certificate,” Stahl said.

The new clothing shop will be in the back of the new building because it gets more traffic.

With a prime location beside Route 219, the present clothing shop gets customers from West Virginia and Maryland.

Stahl plans to have a sign on the roof of the new building to bring in even more business.

Stahl envisions the new facility being used as a shelter that could house up to 120 people if a natural disaster should occur.

The new clothing shop will have bathrooms and fitting rooms and zone-controlled radiant heat in the floors.

Stahl remembers working in the current shop when he was a teen, when it was a barn on his uncle’s farm.

Now, it is refurbished with men’s, women’s and children’s clothing displayed like a department store.

There also are greeting cards, books, puzzles and household items in what Stahl said was once a cattle stable.

Those who sort donations are very selective, not allowing clothing with any spots, missing buttons or rips to be put out for display.

“We’re quite proud,” Stahl said. “This is first class all the way. We’re blessed to get donations.”

Those who wish to donate clothes and other items can drop them off during business hours.

The clothing shop is open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays.

Ruth Rice can be reached at 532-5052 or rrice@tribdem.com.

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