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Food Bank Officials in Statesboro, Ga., Kick Off New $2M Facility Construction

Thu June 29, 2023 - Southeast Edition #14
Statesboro Herald

Supporters of the Statesboro Food Bank in the southeast Georgia community, including officials from the city and Bulloch County, broke ground on the morning of June 27 for a new $2 million, 12,000-sq.-ft. facility envisioned to include not just a food pantry but classrooms for lessons on healthy eating and a dining hall where hot meals will be served to the hungry.

"We're planning to provide breakfast, lunch and, hopefully, with the assistance of Ogeechee Tech and Georgia Southern, supper," explained Sheila Stewart-Leach, executive director of The Food Bank Inc. "There will also be two classrooms in the new building where we will teach not only how to cook the items that are in the food boxes for people who want to learn, but also [hold] classes in nutrition and container gardening."

Classrooms also could serve as "spillover space" if the dining hall, planned to seat 135 people, fills to capacity, the Herald reported. Stewart-Leach and members of the Food Bank's volunteer board hope to use a courtyard for container gardening and to landscape the grounds with "edibles" such as fig and pear trees.

Another feature will be a drive-thru window for food pantry distributions to folks who are already signed up and have transportation.

The Food Bank still must raise about $800,000 to finish paying for the facility's construction and equipment, she said. Then, the charity's annual operating budget will likely increase from the earlier $65,000 to $75,000 range to somewhere in the range of $250,000-$300,000.

Stewart-Leach told the groundbreaking ceremony's attendees that she hoped they would consider helping to donate both their money to the project and their time to help feed those who come to the Food Bank.

So far, the building site is a vacant, grassed lot with some trees in the triangle bordered by Northside Drive West, Miller Street and West Parrish Street.

Meanwhile, the current Statesboro Food Bank, located in the old Julia P. Bryant School on Donnie Simmons Way, only operates as a food pantry, from which people in need obtain boxes of groceries for home preparation. In past years, the nonprofit shared space with Rebecca's Café, an all-volunteer effort that currently serves a free lunch on Wednesdays at First Presbyterian Church.

Stewart-Leach envisions expanding prepared meal service to every day of the week, in partnership with Rebecca's Café, and suggests Statesboro-based Georgia Southern University (GSU) and college food services also might contribute leftover items.

Federal Source Grants Half Project's Budget

The first half of the nearly $2 million land acquisition and construction budget has been supplied by the Bulloch County and Statesboro city governments from pandemic-era federal recovery funds. From Statesboro's share of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding, the mayor and city council dedicated $500,000 for the project, and, likewise, the Bulloch County commissioners committed another half-million dollars from the monies it received from ARPA. The $1 million in government grants fell under the congressionally authorized purpose of addressing "food insecurity."

"These funds have laid the foundation for the Food Bank's ambitious new building project," Stewart-Leach said in a news release prior to the groundbreaking. "We were able to acquire a prime, accessible location on West Northside Drive with roughly $760,000 remaining in the fund for the development and construction of the new facility."

Additionally, acting on behalf of Food Bank Inc., the city of Statesboro bought the 3.75-acre site in 2022 for $240,000.

Besides the remaining $760,000 from ARPA, the local Food Bank also has raised another $145,000 in "generous contributions from individuals, businesses, foundations, agencies and corporations," to put bring its "new building fund" total to approximately $905,000, Stewart-Leach told the Statesboro news source.

But the project cost for the facility, after the land acquisition and around $180,000 of in-kind contributions, was budgeted at just over $1.6 million, leaving a $696,000 funding gap to get the building finished. After talking with the builders about materials costs, Stewart-Leach said June 27, she revised the estimated need upward to about $800,000, which she hopes could be partly met with in-kind donations.

Finally, a Permanent Home

The steel and concrete building, to be constructed by Pearce Building Systems, a Statesboro contractor, with Wesley Parker of Parker Engineering as consulting engineer and Frank D'Arcangelo of DPR Architecture as consulting architect, will include a 6,500-sq.-ft. warehouse for the food pantry, in addition to the 5,500-sq.-ft. public area that will house the commercial-size kitchen, dining hall, and classrooms. Four GSU interior design students also contributed concept studies for the project.

The warehouse is planned to include two walk-in freezers and two walk-in coolers with a backup generator as well as dry storage areas and an office for the pantry manager.

Stewart-Leach recently presented the Statesboro City Council with a tentative timeline for opening the new facility next January, but Jodi Brannon, the Food Bank's operations manager, told the Herald she is concerned about whether that will happen and would still like to hear any offers of temporary space as a temporary fallback.

Brannon, who has worked for the organization for 17 years, oversees the day-to-day work of coordinating volunteers, receiving donated food, and issuing it to people in need.

For decades, the Statesboro Food Bank has operated from a succession of "temporary" facilities. First came the old Sallie Zetterower Elementary School campus on the east side of town, which has since become the Statesboro Family YMCA; and from 2013 until now, the Bryant School on the city's west side. Each property was provided almost rent-free to the Food Bank by the Bulloch County Schools.

Despite that largesse, the history of the Food Bank in Statesboro had been "a struggle to stay open, a struggle to stay in place," said Bulloch County Manager Tom Couch.

"But through the hard work of many hands in this community, and particularly the Food Bank board of directors and its officers, they wanted something bigger," he explained. "They had big goals and big ideas."

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