March 21, 2009 in Washington Voices

Valley Partners growing

New warehouse will ease food distribution for staff, clients
By The Spokesman-Review
 
J. Bart Rayniak photo

The Spokesman-ReviewSpokane Valley Partners CEO Ken Briggs and Spokane Valley Partners food bank director Barb Bennett watch as construction crews begin site preparation for the new warehouse.
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

After more than a year of planning and raising money, Spokane Valley Partners has finally broken ground on a new food warehouse at its location on East Broadway that is expected to make life considerably easier for food bank volunteers and clients.

Part of that year was spent in a lengthy process to get a building permit, and raising money also got considerable attention. “The construction is the easy part,” said Valley Partners CEO Ken Briggs. “It’s such an important project for us. That warehouse is going to be absolutely critical for our operation.”

The food bank serves about 3,400 families, up 16 percent over last year. The economy has had an impact, as did the closure of the St. Vincent de Paul food bank last year.

The plans are to attach a new addition to the northwest corner of the existing building and knock out walls to connect the new and old spaces. A walk-in cooler is planned so the food bank can stock fresh produce and perishables like milk. There is currently only limited cold storage space. “We have to give them away immediately,” he said.

The new space will give the food bank five times the storage it has currently. Right now food is crammed into the Valley Partners basement, carried down by a conveyor belt. Volunteers must lift each box repeatedly to send the food down, sort and store it and then move the food back upstairs for distribution. Briggs estimates that each can of donated food is handled 10 times before being sent home with a family. “It’s just a ridiculous situation,” said Briggs. “It’s just insane. The reason it was tolerated is because the old building was so much worse.”

The food bank also has off-site storage at the Hazen and Jaeger Funeral Home, which adds more volunteer time and transportation costs.

The plan is for the new facility to have rolling shelves to make moving items around easier. A loading dock will also be constructed. “We’ll be able to take pallets right off the truck,” he said.

The project is expected to cost about $600,000. “We had to demolish a house,” Briggs said. “We had to do asbestos abatement. We had to move our transformer. It’s not a standalone structure. There are complications.”

Grants have been trickling in – $260,000 from the state, $25,000 from Boeing, $25,000 from Safeco, other donations from Rotary clubs and other local organizations. A few months ago Valley Partners was notified that it had been awarded $100,000 from the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust. But that money won’t be handed over until Valley Partners raises the last bit of money it needs. “We still need $100,000 in round figures,” Briggs said. “It’s a little nerve-racking. We’ve got a lot of grant requests out.”

Construction on the new addition is expected to be complete by the end of June.

Nina Culver can be reached at (509) 927-2158 or via e-mail at ninac@spokesman.com.


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