Investigators with State Fire Marshal's Office are offering a $2,500 reward after determining that a fire at the Renville County Food Shelf was started intentionally.
The fire was first reported at 8:35 p.m. on Sunday, and investigators believe someone deliberately set the fire in the doorway of the local food pantry.
"I don't know who would have the guts to do something like that," said Olivia Fire Chief Tim Seehusen. "For someone to do something like this is pretty low."
The affected building, which also houses the Redwood/Renville Red Cross, a thrift store, the Hair Connection and a second-story apartment unit, is located at 902 W. Depue Ave. in Olivia. All of the businesses inside will remain closed for now, and all of the needy in Renville County will now need to find another place for assistance.
Officials say the resident of the apartment was able to escape unharmed, but the community is still hurting as they struggle to understand who would target a charity.
"It's a service for the community," said Ardis Wertish, of the Renville County Food Shelf. "I mean, there are people out there who need food."
Wertish told FOX 9 News the food pantry has been her pet project. They get no public funding. Instead, all the money and groceries come from community donations. Volunteers -- including Wertish -- run the pantry. Last month, they helped nearly 300 families in need.
Sadly, they aren't the only ones who find themselves unable to help others now. A charitable clothing center was also ruined, and the Red Cross lost most of the supplies used for local disaster relief.
This isn't the first hardship to befall these charities either. The women who run the food shelf and clothing drop told FOX 9 News their office had recently been broken into a few times, and the thieves made off with the petty cash box. Police are exploring possible connections.
Anyone with information regarding the fire or potential suspect information is asked to contact any of the following agencies:
Multiple agencies -- including the Olivia Police Department, Olivia Fire Department, Danube Fire Department, Blue Island Fire Department, Renville County Sheriff's Department and the Olivia Ambulance -- responded to the fire.
The owner of the building, Dave Triplett, told FOX 9 News that they will do whatever it takes to get the building back open.
In the meantime, the food shelf hopes to reopen within a couple weeks inside a nearby office space that is available.
"Either the building will come down or be gutted," he said. "We will rebuild if that is what it takes."
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