GREENFIELD — They do what they can to help, but sometimes the need is just too great, Jill Ebbert said.
The executive director of the Kenneth Butler Memorial Soup Kitchen watches her clients leave for the night and knows some of them have nowhere to go. They’ll camp out in sleeping bags on the Pennsy Trail — the lucky ones will find a friend’s couch for the night.
Should the soup kitchen, 202 E. Main St., renovate its unused second story, it could solve two problems at once, organizers said: overflow donations could be stored upstairs, and the room could double as a safe and warm space for area residents in need of shelter during incle- ment weather.
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Ebbert brought the issue to the Hancock County Board of Commissioners this week in hopes of finding a solution; officials discussed whether the best option was finding another county building or partnering to renovate the existing space.
Ebbert told the board the soup kitchen and three other social service nonprofits are searching for a place to store the donations they collect from the community. While the kitchen might not regularly need its second story for storage were the space renovated, having the area available also would provide organizers another means to serve their clients.
Ebbert has always hoped to renovate the space; if an elevator and second exit are installed, the upstairs could also be used as a shelter on cold, winter nights. Providing shelter for residents without heat after the kitchen closes each evening has long been a concern, she said.
Several years ago, Park Chapel opened as a shelter site during cold weather, and 15 people used it to keep warm, Ebbert noted.
The soup kitchen, which has served more than 169,000 meals since opening in October 2009, receives donations from church groups, individuals, nonprofit organizations, businesses and schools year round, Ebbert said. In 2016, the kitchen provided more than 30,000 meals and spent less than $800 to purchase food, thanks to the community’s support, she said.
Organizers are grateful for the community’s generosity, but say storing those donations is challenging — and cash gifts don’t remotely cover the cost it would take to renovate the second story.
The soup kitchen’s monthly budget is $11,000, Ebbert said, and there’s never money left over to fund a second story renovation.
Commissioner Brad Armstrong said improving the soup kitchen’s facility rather than creating new storage space offsite might be a better option, he said, noting the county’s memorial building has no open space.
Commissioner Marc Huber said with cost estimates and project details, the county and private donators might be willing to pitch in to help fund renovations.
“It’s a great service,” Huber said. “You guys do a great job.”