Residents from Garretsville and beyond packed the gymnasium at James A. Garfield High School Monday, most with one question -- what can they do to help?

Two days after a block of their downtown was devastated by fire, Tommie Jo Marsilio, a former Portage County commissioner and a Garrettsville resident, organized the community meeting to rally support.

Marsilio asked all affected business people to stand before the crowd, and many did so with tears in their eyes as the crowd gave them a standing ovation.

"These folks are why we are here," she said. "They represent the very best of America, especially of small town America. ... To my friends and neighbors, this is what I have to offer to you -- a whole room full of people."

Ted Lysiak, superintendent of James A. Garfield Schools, said the board held an emergency meeting Monday, agreeing to make space in the district's intermediate school available to affected businesses free of charge. The former classrooms will be available in June, when school is out for the summer. The district is building an addition to its elementary building and will house its 5th and 6th graders there next school year.

Jim Reppy, owner of The Barber of G-Ville, said his old style barber pole had been saved by firefighters fighting the blaze. He's looking forward to putting it out in a new location, and isn't sure whether that will be in the school building or elsewhere in the village.

"I'm working on it," he said.

Michelle Elias, co-founder of the the Nelson-Garrettsville Community Cupboard, said there are at least 16 food drives going on to replace food lost in the blaze. The charity has secured temporary storage space for the food, and a temporary location to distribute it, starting April 7. The food will be distributed from the former ODOT garage on S.R. 88 in Nelson.

"It's just unbelievable the amount of support we have received," she said. "We could be ready to reopen in just two weeks time."

Clients are being referred to The Center of Hope in Ravenna and the 4C's Food Cupboard in Mantua while the charity is closed.

Stephanie Pringle, supervisor of Ohio Means Jobs Portage County, said the agency was there to offer support to employers and displaced workers. Mandy Berardinelli, suprvisor of Job and Family Services of Portage County, also was present to assist with requests for public assistance. Many people stopped by to pick up a brochure or class schedule, saying they would pass it along.

"It's so new, and there's still a lot of shock," Pringle said. "People are figuring out what their next steps are."

Michelle Zivoder, secretary of the Garrettsville Area Chamber of Commerce, was organizing fundraising efforts. She said she knew of at least 30 efforts under way before she came into Monday's meeting, where a room full of people was asked to put their suggestions on paper.

Sabrina Christian-Bennett, a Portage County commissioner, praised the fact that the group was organized within days of the fire, saying people need to be engaged while there is still strong community interest.

"I think it was awesome tonight," she said.


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