LORAIN — Officials and workers at Second Harvest Food Bank of North Central Ohio have been frustrated for years that they were unable to close the gap between the rising numbers of people needing food and the agency’s ability to meet those needs.
Friday’s groundbreaking on a $5 million distribution center — the agency’s largest-ever construction project — will go a long way to letting the organization offer a lot more help to the hungry across the four counties served through food pantries, hot meals programs and farmers markets.
“This is going to fundamentally change the way we operate,” Julie Chase-Morefield, the food bank’s executive director, said this week of the roughly 41,000-square-foot building officials hope to get underway to meet a projected completion by January or February.
“This will more than double our capacity, which is at 7.5 million pounds of food now, and allow us to have three times the number of volunteers working at a time,” Chase-Morefield said.
The food bank usually sees 15 to 20 people give their time and effort to work in the facility’s 16,000-square-foot warehouse on Deer Trail Lane off Baumhart Road.
“This will allow us to have 30 to 40 people,” Chase-Morefield said. “We just think of how much more (food shipments) we will be able to process. This will make us a lot more efficient.”
The new building will go up on 11 acres of land purchased by the agency on the opposite side of Baumhart Road.
Planned since early 2011, the new site was made possible by a $3.5 million fundraising campaign that included $1.5 million in internal funds, as well as a $1.5 million grant from the Nordson Corporation Foundation.
“We knew five years ago we needed to do more,” Chase-Morefield said.
The new distribution center’s receiving docks will be able to handle four tractor-trailer loads of food at one time instead of the single dock available now.
“There are many days we have two to three semis lined up waiting to unload food,” Chase-Morefield said.
The more-than-doubled warehouse space will let the organization be able to accept shipments of food from a much-larger pool of potential donors that are part of the network run by Feeding America, the country’s biggest hunger relief agency.
“Our freezer-cooler space will be seven times bigger,” Chase-Morefield said.
Bigger coolers and freezers will allow more fresh produce and frozen meats, breads and other food to be stored for longer periods of time before being distributed, Susan Bartosch, external affairs manager, said.
This is a change from past years when most donated food were shelf items such as boxed or canned foods that could be stored for six months, Chase-Morefield said.
“People are trying to get away from processed food and eat healthier,” she added.
The new facility comes at a very opportune time – as reflected by a recent study by Feeding America. that found a growing number of people are in need of food in the four counties served by Second Harvest’s network of 100-plus partner charities.
“They say our economy is getting better, but we’re seeing more people at our food pantries,” Chase-Morefield said.
Reducing hunger could lead to reduced medical bills and other costs for households that establish healthier eating habits.
That goal is a big one, both women admit, given the fact that grocery shopping so often goes to the bottom of the priority list for financially strapped households.
“Not all users of the food bank are chronic,” Chase-Morefield said. “Many use us to fill in the gap for a little while until they are back on their feet.”