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PORTAGE — For 30 years, the Portage Township Food Pantry called the former Garyton school on Central Avenue its home.

It is moving, at least temporarily, to the Portage Presbyterian Church, 6225 Lute Road, pantry president Joseph Kasper said.

Kasper said they were notified in early November by Portage Township Schools that they would have to vacate the building by Jan. 1. It was a move, he said, they were anticipating after New Vistas High School moved out more than a year ago, leaving the pantry the only tenant in the building.

"PTS has for some time subsidized the food pantry. We have paid for a portion of utilities, insurance, snow removal, trash removal and other maintenance on Garyton that we would not otherwise have to expend if the food pantry was not occupying the space. Preserving all PTS monies for education of our kids has become more urgent given the status of educational funding in our state. The projections are that will only get worse," said school district attorney Ken Elwood in a written statement.

Elwood said NEO, which operated the alternative high school in the building, was paying 86 percent of the costs until it moved and the pantry was paying 11 percent. The pantry continued to pay 11 percent, with the district paying the balance.

Elwood said there have been meetings between the school and pantry officials since January about the closing of the building.

The pantry began moving out of the building Thursday. Kasper said the first distribution from the church will be Jan. 12.

Kasper said the pantry, along with Portage Township Trustee Brendan Clancy, are working to find a permanent location for the pantry, possibly constructing its own building. He said they have reached out to several entities to assist in finding a location, and they will be looking at grants and, likely, turn to the community at some point to raise funds.

The pantry serves 200 families and 580 individuals each month.

Clancy said the pantry is "absolutely essential" to the community.

"We are partners joined at the hip. We couldn't do what we do without them," he said, adding the trustee's office completes the screening process for pantry users.

Kasper said the new site is not as large as the Garyton building, which may cause some changes in the distribution of food in the short term.

"We will have to make adjustments at the church because it is a smaller space. It will drastically decrease the amount of food we can store," Kasper said, adding that after this week's move they will be working on the distribution process and will have to obtain an occupancy permit from the city before Jan. 12.

The fate of the old Garyton school building has not been determined.

Elwood said the district has sought appraisals on the property and will make a final decision to begin the public sale process at a January meeting. He added the school board has also considered using the space for other educational purposes.

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Porter County reporter

Joyce has been a reporter for more than 38 years, including 23 years with The Times. She covers municipal and school government in Valparaiso and Portage.