The largest steel shutdown in recent history, which convulsed this community last fall, is relentlessly unraveling the social fabric of the area.

Chuck and Kay Windsor, who live in suburban Poland, can see it happening all around them.

Their Catholic church, Holy Family, cleared about $2,000 on its April festival instead of making the usual $8,000 to $10,000 profit.

A friend of theirs, a car dealer, says his business is down 60 percent.

Another friend who owns an appliance store that used to sell four or five television sets a week tells them he's lucky now to sell one every three weeks.

Even one shared of prosperity is tied to the area's problems: A gas station owner a few blocks from their house tells them his U-Haul truck business is booming because young families are leaving for the South and West.

Windsor, 41, lost his job as a carpenter at the Campbell Works here when the Youngstown Sheet and Tube Co. announced last September it was closing most of its operations at the plant. Some 4,400 workers have been laid off.

State and federal benefits have made up most of their take-home pay, but the timebomb is ticking - the benefits will start giving out this fall.

Chuck Windsor hasn't been able to find another job and admits he's worried.

"If this Save Our Valley campaign gets some backing, I'll be okay. If not, I could have to move out of this area myself," he said.

The campaign is seeking support for a bold - some say hare-brained - scheme to reopen the Campbell Works with a new company that would be owned by the community and the steel workers.

The idea came from religious leaders in this area who formed what they call the Ecumenical Coalition of the Mahoning Valley, which has asked Washington economist Gar Alperowitz and his research institute, the National Center for Economic Alternatives, to study whether such a plan is feasible.

Alperowitz says it is - if certain conditions can be met.

The most important is money. The center says it would take $525 million over an eight-year period to cover the price of electric furnace equipment plus start-up losses and expenses of recovering the Campbell Works' market.

Assuming cash equity at $52 million, that would leave $473 million to be raised, and Alperowitz believes about $300 million of that would have to come from federal loan guarantees.

To help the fledgling firm, which could produce 1.4 million tons of steel a year, he says the federal government would have to buy 100,000 to 300,000 tons annually.

Even with that kind of financial transfusion, the odds against such a new venture are staggering. Consultants here say no one has ever reopened a steel mill and no new steel company has been started in a generation.

Alperowitz calls Youngstown "a symbol of major urban dislocation," and says the closure here, the biggest nonmilitary layoff since World War II, is a symptom of a larger industrial malaise.

What happened in Youngstown is dramatic - like a massive heart attack," he says. "But there's a slower cancer eating at the upper Mideast and the Northeast. The question is whether there's any way to turn around an older urban community that's going under."

In its heyday, from the turn of the century through the 1930s, Youngstown ranked second only to Pittsburgh in steel production. It ranked fourth before the recent closings and now is eighth.

Ed Salt, retired editor of the sheet and tube company's magazine, remembers when you could read a newspaper at night almost anywhere in Youngstown "by light reflected off the clouds from the Bessemer furnaces at Republic and U.S. Steel."

In those days, the belching smoke from the furnaces was known as "gold smoke," a sign that men were at work.

Now at the 78-year-old Campbell Works on the southwest end of Youngstown, more than half of the men are not working. Production has dropped from 1.8 million tons last year to 500,000. Youngstown's unemployment rate, 6.5 to 7 percent before the closings, is about 9.7 percent now.

Smoke pours out of the quenching tower at the coke plant. It and the seamless pipe operation and the spike mill are all that are still open.

The 12 stacks over the open hearth furnaces are quiet.

Many businesses in suburban Struthers, on the east bank, are closed, and Campbell, on the westbank, looks like a ghost town. Some planners predict the town will be bankrupt by July.

The impact on a family like the Windsors, who have four children, was immediate. "We're eating a lot of chicken and hamburger," says Kay Windsor. "We use candles to cut down our light bill. I'm a registered nurse and I'm looking for a job in a doctor's office."

The impact on other families has been less visible but just as real. Bob Planey, for example, is getting almost as much money in weekly benefits - $227 - as he took home - $270 - when he was a steelworker. And as he talks, you hear how things are looking up - he thinks he'll get a job in the next few weeks on an assembly line at another factory; he's saved his money, and his wife, Pam, has bone back to work at the local bank in Struthers, where they live.

But eventually a feeling of desperation comes out in his conversation:

"I don't sleep good any more. I wake up in the morning and I say, 'What are you going to do?'

"It's on my mind constantly: I don't have a job.I look at my two kids and I get scared. I'm 31 and I worked at the plant 11 years. I loved my job."

Youngstown Mayor J. Phillip Richley cites estimates indicating that if the workers laid off here remain out of work a year, "This area will lose $80 million in wages, $53 million in retail trade, $1.25 million in local income taxes, and $4.75 million in real estate taxes, of which $3 million will be lost to the schools."

Once the center of what was called "the Ruhr of North America," Youngstown has long been depleted of iron ore and limestone, which, with coke, make the molten metal that is mixed with scrap to make steel.

Since the city is landlocked, its mills must haul in raw materials by train or truck, which costs more than water transport. Because of different railroad and union jurisdictions, a trainload of taconite coming here from Lake Erie 60 miles away goes through five crew changes and five engine changes and averages less than a mile an hour.

But Youngstown has advantages. It is in the heart of ready markets - nearly all of the nation's major steel fabricating plants are within a 70-mile radius. It has an excellent road system. And it has a proud labor force.

But the workers and the company don't see eye to eye on all issues.

Youngstown Sheet and Tube Co. blames the plant closings on costs of meeting environmental standards, government "interference" with price increases the industry wants and on foreign competition. But critics, including United Steelworkers of America officials and some Ecumenical Coalition leaders, also fault the company's management.

In 1969, the Youngstown firm was taken over by the much smaller Lykes Corp., a New Orleans-based shipbuilding conglomerate.

A union analysis says that Lykes, having acquired a tremendous debt to buy the Youngstown company, paid huge dividends to preferred stockholders out of net earnings, and let the Campbell plant deteriorate.

A company spokesman, while not disputing the critics' figures on dividend payments, said the company announced in 1974 it would modernize the plant but was unable to do so because of declining profits.

Lykes has admitted it is a "falling company" an dis trying to merge with LTV Corp., which owns the Jones & Laughlin Steel Corp. The merger must be approved by the Justice Department's antitrust division.

Coalition leaders are negotiating with ITV and Lykes to see if the merged firm would sell the Campbell works to a new community-owned company.

Meanwhile, the coalition has asked national and local church groups, unions, business and area residents to open "Save Our Valley" accounts in local banks. By the end of April more than 1,000 accounts totaling $1.2 million has been opened.

"We're not going to Washington hat in hand," says Stanton. "We want to be able to say that we've got millions of dollars committed and thousands of people interested in investing in the new company."

Alperowitz argues that loan guarantees would not cost the government anything and that the cost of doing nothing is great - an estimated $73 million in welfare alone over the next three years.

He notes that the full impact of the Campbell layoff will not be felt until the jobless workers' benefits give out, starting in September. "For many people," Alperowitz says, "doomsday is right around the corner."