A campaign launched by the Hoosier Hills Food Bank (HHFB) last November to find larger warehouse space has reached a landmark phase -- the acceptance of a purchase offer for a new warehouse.
HHFB Executive Director Julio Alonso said the nonprofit agency will purchase a 15,523-square-foot warehouse and 1.67 acres of land on West Industrial Park Drive for its operations, which are now located on Fairview just south of West 11th Street.
"We need this space to continue letting us do what we're doing, let alone try to do anything more," Alonso said. "Space is the primary need. We've got about 6,000 square feet here, and we've been borrowing about 10,000 square feet of space to operate."
Hoosier Hills collects food from restaurants, groceries, food distributors and other sources and distributes it to more than 80 agencies that serve the hungry in Monroe and five other South-Central Indiana counties.
Due to a significant rise in the demand for food in these counties, HHFB created the "25 for 25" campaign to expand its warehouse space and continue operating at the current level. According to a facility feasibility study published in November 2007, the food bank needs approximately 25,000 square feet of warehouse space to maintain its current operating rate.
Launching the campaign during its 25-year anniversary, HHFB's goal was to acquire 25,000 square feet of warehouse space for the 25,000 clients served annually by its partner agencies.
Although the new warehouse does not have the square footage called for in the feasibility study, Alonso said the extra land will allow space for future expansion.
"We wanted to find something with land so that we could either put up another building or add to the existing building, and that's kind of the way it worked out," he said. "We think this will keep us set for a good three to five years at least to get started with."
Improvements will also be made to the new location to further the HHFB's operations, Alonso said. He expects all of the moving and improvements to be made in a three-month period, starting this August. It will cause some interruptions to what the agency does, but dry goods will still be distributed during this time.
This expansion is coming at a critical time. Last month, HHFB's largest agency, Mother Hubbard's Cupboard in Bloomington, saw a 100 percent increase in new clients and a 45 percent increase in services overall.
The food bank also saw increases last year, with over 2 million pounds of food moved through the warehouse in 2007. This was up from 1.65 million pounds in 2006. In 2000, the total was 1.41 million pounds.
One of the underlying causes for the increase in food demand is underemployment, especially in Monroe County, Alonso said.
"A lot of the people who are working here are working for relatively low wages," he explained. "The types of jobs lost in this community have not been replaced by jobs that pay the same level of wages and benefits. I think we're seeing a lot of people who are working but just not making enough at what they do to sustain themselves on a regular basis."
He added that there has never been a time when the agency has had food on the shelves but no need for it.
According to Alonso, demand spikes during specific times of the year, such as the holiday season and the summer.
"When the kids get out of school they no longer have access to the free school meal programs, and the agencies try to step it up and provide more," Alonso said.
With the warehouse deals falling into place, Alonzo is optimistic that HHFB is positioned to meet the growing demands for food. The only major obstacle left to face is the cost.
According to Alonso's news release, the food bank's target maximum mortgage is $400,000 -- $300,000 for the property and $100,000 in improvements. The agency has $250,000.
While HHFB has purchase offers to buy the new warehouse and sell its current one, closings are not expected until July or August, leaving three months to raise the needed $150,000.
To do this, the HHFB has implemented a new fundraiser, "Lend a Hand, Buy a Foot."
This new fundraiser is a way to "go back to the community," Alonso said. It asks community members to purchase a square foot of warehouse space for $48.
"If things fall into place the way we hope, we'd like to be able to close in late July or early August," he said. "Then we'll take about three months to do some improvements to the new facility and then we'd really like to get in before Thanksgiving."
Audree Notoras can be reached at .