Gahanna and New Albany residents are hoping a benefit walk will raise funds for -- and increase awareness of -- Ohio's poorest county.

Gahanna and New Albany residents are hoping a benefit walk will raise funds for -- and increase awareness of -- Ohio's poorest county.

People Helping People has scheduled a 5K walk-a-thon from 8 to 11 a.m. Oct. 4 at Gahanna Lincoln High School, 140 S. Hamilton Road. Funds raised will be used to assist the St. Francis Center in Vinton County.

For nearly 30 years, St. Francis has been assisting the poor. Its food pantry feeds 500 families a month and the clothing bank helps 250 families, according to Gahanna resident James Noe, who, with his wife, Elizabeth, has been helping the charity for more than four years. The organization is spearheaded by Sister Linda Lewandowski and is connected with the Catholic Diocese of Columbus, Noe said.

The Diocese allows Lewan-dowski to speak at one church every year. She spoke at the Noes' church, Church of the Resurrection, in 2004.

"We met her afterward," Noe said. "We were intrigued by her story about the needs of folks in Vinton County."

The Noes volunteered at the food bank for a day and immediately were hooked, he said. They began collecting clothing and money, he said. In the Appalachian counties, he said, unemployment is high and the need is acute.

Noe said clothing donations for the St. Francis Center are stored in a 60-year-old "rotting, infested, dilapidated building crumbling in the earth." The center needs an additional place behind the food bank to collect and sort clothing. The goal is to raise $40,000.

Donations have been piling up, Noe said, adding that his garage is filled with used clothing, appliances and other contributions for the St. Francis Center.

Volunteers were able to get an architect to design the space for Lewandowski. People helped with the dirt, but $40,000 is needed for concrete blocks and labor, Noe said.

He said he aims to raise the money "with a nice day and a lot of people walking."

Gahanna resident Rose Kent said organizers are looking to make the walk an annual event. She said members of their church have been helping St. Francis for a number of years, including distributing turkeys for Thanksgiving.

"We started to hear the needs in Vinton County," Kent said. "All us like to help the poor."

Gahanna residents are invited to help by putting together a walk-a-thon team consisting of three or more members. Each team is being asked to contribute $100 in sponsorship. Contributions should be dropped off on the day of the walk at GLHS.

tstubbs@thisweeknews.com