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Woman facing arson charges connected to Garrard County Food Pantry fire

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Posted at 12:49 PM, Nov 14, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-16 14:31:57-05

GARRARD COUNTY, Ky. (LEX 18)  — A woman is facing arson charges after a weekend fire at the Garrard County Food Pantry that's considered a "total loss."

Debra Smalling was arraigned Monday morning in Garrard District Court. Smalling faces charges of second-degree arson and first-degree criminal mischief.

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Lancaster City Fire and Rescue said it started right before 10 a.m. Sunday. According to Smalling's arrest citation, surveillance video shows the woman walking to the side of the building and rummaging through some cardboard and paper that was stacked up against the building. The citation says Smalling admitted to placing a lit cigarette on the items, causing them to catch fire.

Co-director Angela Cash said about 100 donated Thanksgiving meals, including more than 100 turkeys, were destroyed in the fire.

"We handed out over a million pounds of food out of this building," said Gregory Cash. "It's a total loss right now. We lost everything."

Even though firefighters got on the scene quickly to put it out, the building was destroyed.

Families already wondering how they would feed each other on Thanksgiving are now not entirely sure what comes next.

"We're going to try and continue on as normal as we can, but it's going to take a lot of prayers and a lot of work, cause as you can see, we lost everything. It's a mess right now. I'm still in shock. I don't know how to take it or what to say," said Cash.

Cash says there were also several gifts for kids with Christmas a little more than a month away. He's familiar with helping those heal who might be struggling.

This news might tug at the heartstrings a bit. It did for Father Jim Sichko, a central Kentucky-based priest.

"If it means rounding up those meals, then I'll do it. If it means helping them with the financial donation, I will do it. If it means going out and purchasing those meals, I will do it," said Fr. Sichko.

As the clean-up continues, even those who provide might experience a time of need too. Father Sichko plans to step up and help. He wants everyone to remember the season of giving isn't just now, it's always.

"At any moment any one of us could be in need. And I hope people would step up in any moment," said Fr. Sichko.

No one was inside at the time and no one was hurt. The cause of the fire is under investigation.

Cash said anyone who would like to help replace the Thanksgiving meals that were lost can bring turkeys and other food items to board member Monty Majors at First Southern Bank in downtown Lancaster.

On Sunday night, Lancaster Police Department posted on Facebook that officers had arrested the suspect.

Cash tells LEX 18 that the person arrested was someone who regularly comes to collect food. He says that he hopes people don't vilify the woman arrested but pray for her.

Despite the total loss of their building, the Pantry will continue helping those in need.

On Monday at 9 am, the senior food box distribution will go on in the parking lot of the Lancaster Baptist Church.

God's Pantry will be bringing in a truck and supplies to help distribute the food.

The search for a new temporary space to deliver Thanksgiving meals is still ongoing.

If you would like to donate and help out the food pantry, click here.