The new food bank warehouse at Spokane Valley Partners is nearly complete, and eager volunteers are already making use of a big new walk-in cooler and freezer.
The new cooler means the food bank will be able to accept and store donations of perishable food that previously had to be refused or handed out the same day they came in.
“Last week we got 600 pounds of ice cream,” said CEO Ken Briggs. “We got a whole bunch of fresh milk.”
The current storage space in the food bank basement is cramped. Food must be unloaded from trucks by hand, sent downstairs on a conveyor belt, and then sorted and re-boxed by hand. Every can and box is examined for damage, and expiration dates are checked. Food that doesn’t pass muster is put in a large box labeled “pig,” and a local pig farmer stops by and picks it up.
Food that won’t fit in the basement is loaded back onto trucks and taken to Hazen and Jaeger Funeral Home, which has donated storage space. When the food bank needs additional supplies, the boxes are sent back upstairs on the conveyor belt or trucked back from the funeral home.
It’s a time-consuming and labor-intensive process for the volunteers, who are mostly retirees. The food bank has only one paid staff member. Last year the volunteers put in 24,000 hours.
“They are the soul of this place,” Briggs said. “Without the volunteers, we would close the doors the next day.”
The new 4,400-square-foot warehouse is all on one level and will feature rolling shelves to make sorting and transporting food easier. A new forklift will be able to unload trucks in 20 minutes instead of the two hours it now takes to do it by hand. Trucks will be able to pull up to a loading door instead of taking up space in the main parking lot, in the way of pedestrian and vehicle traffic.
Jeanne MacKay has been volunteering at the food bank for more than a decade. “We’ve been looking forward to it for a long time,” she said of the new warehouse. “It’s going to be a lot more comfortable and workable for everyone, including the customers.”
Briggs is looking forward to having all the food in one place. There will even be room for expansion. “When it’s fully built out, it will accommodate four full semi-loads (of food),” he said.
The move into the new warehouse is expected in a few weeks after some painting is done, the portable shelves are constructed and other final touches are completed. An open house and ribbon cutting is planned for Aug. 28.
Once the food bank is moved in, the old food storage space can be used for other projects, like storing seasonal supplies that are currently put in any available space in the building.
All that remains is to raise the final $100,000 to pay for the project, Briggs said. The organization has until November 2010 to raise the money. “We will make it,” he said.