Wednesday, May 22, 2013
By Matt Hongoltz-Hetling email@example.com
FAIRFIELD -- After 20 years of feeding those in need, the Fairfield Interfaith Food Pantry is seeking help to move to a new home.
A warehouse behind the former Gerald Hotel might be the new home of the Fairfield Interfaith Food Pantry.
Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans
An artist's conception of what the Fairfield Interfaith Food Pantry's potential new home would look like.
The pantry, which opened in 1993, provides food to about 400 people a month in Benton and Fairfield.
The pantry operates out of cramped quarters on the first floor of a house owned by the First Baptist Church on Newhall Street.
The house, a former parsonage for the church, no longer is adequate for the pantry's needs, co-director Nancy Marcoux said.
Twice a month the house becomes crowded as about 20 volunteers distribute food to hundreds of people. Some volunteers do intake and process paperwork for the clients, while others gather food into containers from various rooms, or carry the containers to waiting cars.
All the time, they are navigating through the clients, who often outnumber the pantry's seats.
"When we walk through we have to walk sideways," Marcoux said. "We have to keep our weight down."
Some food is stored on the top floor, while the basement level is occupied by Lamb's Clothing Closet, a clothes donation effort run by the church.
Every Thursday, one of the seven churches that participates in the pantry sends a pastor to help process food requests and to give them advice. The pastor's working space, a small bathroom, has led to a recurring joke.
"We call him Father John," Marcoux said.
With every available inch taken, the operation spills out of the house and onto the lawn, where apples, green peppers, lettuce and other produce are apportioned.
As crowded as the house on Newhall Street gets, it's better than the alternative, because there is no alternative, Marcoux said.
For 18 years, the pantry operated out of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Church on High Street, but in 2011, it was one of three area churches closed by Corpus Christi Parish in Waterville amid concerns about strained finances and dwindling parishioners.
Without the church, the food pantry was scrambling for a new home.
"We looked around downtown and there was no place we could go," Marcoux said. "There was nothing."
Two weeks ago, the pantry launched a fundraising campaign to take advantage of a new opportunity. It's a small warehouse behind the town office, which until recently was part of the Gerald Hotel property and has been donated for the pantry's use.
The Kennebec Valley Community Action Program bought the hotel in November for the purpose of converting it into housing for low-income seniors. The warehouse and another small building on the property play no part in those plans and so it made sense to make them available to the pantry, according to Deputy Town Manager Cynthia Tuttle.
The town owns the property and plans to lease it to the pantry for $1 a year, Tuttle said.
She said the second building on the property will be torn down.
The brown warehouse, with boarded-up windows and unfinished space, is unappealing, but it is solidly built and would be ideal for the pantry, Marcoux said.
"The inside is very good," she said. "It's a sound structure."
The only thing standing between the pantry and its new home is money.
The warehouse has no running water, insulation or kitchen, Marcoux said.
Marcoux said it will cost about $50,000 to make the warehouse usable by the pantry. For another $50,000, she said, it could be updated to serve their purposes for the long term, a project that would include replacing the third floor of the warehouse with a peaked roof.
Since fundraising began two weeks ago, the group has raised about $2,000, half of which has come from area businesses. The remaining half came from a donation made in honor of Dick Tompkins, a Fairfield resident who died last year.
Marcoux said that the pantry is a long way from its goal, but she has faith in the outcome.
"The money is a little slow coming now, but I know the good lord is not going to let us down," she said. "He's teaching us patience. We wanted it yesterday but we have to wait."
According to its records, the pantry's 50 active volunteers have fed individuals more than 68,000 times since it opened 20 years ago.
Matt Hongoltz-Hetling -- 861-9287